Asian stock markets down after Wall Street decline as China growth target awaited

Economic Indicators Associated Press

Asian stock markets were mostly lower Wednesday after Wall Street declined and investors looked ahead to U.S. economic data and China's announcement of its annual growth target.

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KEEPING SCORE: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 lost 0.5 percent to 18,724.03 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.3 percent to 24,631.46. Seoul's Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 1,997.50 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.5 percent to 5,906.80. The Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.2 percent at 3,257.72. An exception to the downtrend was India, where the Sensex rose 1 percent after the central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates.

U.S. OUTLOOK: Investors were looking ahead to Wednesday's release of data on employment by ADP, a payroll processing company, and manufacturing data from the Institute for Supply Management. Those provide hints for the Labor Department's release of monthly jobs data Friday; the report is an important influence on the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decisions and scrutinized by financial markets.

CHINA TARGET: China's Premier Li Keqiang is expected to lower this year's official growth target to 7 percent from last year's 7.5 percent when he announces the government's economic plans Thursday in an appearance before the national legislature. The lower target after a decade of double-digit expansion is part of the ruling Communist Party's marathon effort to reduce China's reliance on trade and investment and nurture more self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption and service industries.

ANALYST'S TAKE: The U.S. economy appears strong despite data this week showing declines in construction spending and vehicle sales, according to Jim O'Sullivan of High-Frequency Economics. "We expect another fairly strong rise in payrolls and a drop in the unemployment rate in the February employment report on Friday," said O'Sullivan in a report.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks fell from record highs and the Nasdaq dropped below 5,000 a day after passing that milestone for the first time since the dot-com era 15 years ago. Losses were modest but broad, with eight industry sectors in the S&P index falling. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 85.26 points, or 0.5 percent, to 18,203.37. The Standard & Poor's 500 declined 9.61 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,107.78. The Nasdaq gave up 28.20 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 4,979.90.

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ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 2 cents to $50.53 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 93 cents on Tuesday to close at $40.42. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 29 cents to $60.73 after surging $1.48 to $61.02 on Tuesday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 119.76 yen from the previous session's 119.66 yen. The euro edged down to $1.1169 from $1.1180.