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World stock markets were mixed Tuesday as investors waited for the U.S. Federal Reserve to telegraph what it plans to do next with its economic stimulus program.

The Fed is conducting its third round of massive bond purchases known as quantitative easing to help drive down interest rates and spur lending. But recently improving data on the U.S. economy has led to speculation that it might consider scaling back the program or winding it down earlier than expected.

On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will appear before Congress and the central bank will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting.

“When markets are this elevated, with US markets at record levels, investors generally look for any excuse to exercise caution,” said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne.

European shares were mixed in early trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.1% to 6,761.79. Germany’s DAX lost 0.4% to 8,422.06. France’s CAC-40 shed 0.5% to 4,004.48. Wall Street also appeared set for losses, with Dow Jones industrial futures down marginally to 15,309 while S&P 500 futures fell 0.1% to 1,662.60.

Asian stocks posted uneven results. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index eked out a small gain of 0.1% to close at 15,381.02, its highest finish in more than five years, as the dollar rebounded against the yen. The Nikkei is up 48% for the year.

But Asian stocks elsewhere fell. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined 0.5% to 23,366.37. South Korea’s Kospi fell less than 0.1% to 1,981.09. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 sank 0.6% to 5,180.10. Benchmarks in mainland China and the Philippines rose while those in India and Singapore fell.

A key piece of data comes out of China later in the week when HSBC releases its monthly manufacturing survey Thursday. After some recent ups and downs, analysts said they expected to see a stabilization of growth in factory output.

“I think the market has already turned more cautious,” said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. “I don’t think it will add much more impact to the market overall.”

Among individual stocks, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. soared 34.3% after the company launched the manufacture of a mini-vehicle jointly developed with Nissan Motor Co., Kyodo News said.

Speculation that Japan may restart nuclear reactors shut down following the March 2011 tsunami disaster helped push shares in Tokyo Electric Power Co. up 12.3%. The ruling Liberal Democrats are keen to resume operations at many reactors, though such decisions are months away since the government is due to introduce revised nuclear safety regulations in July.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 21 cents to $96.50 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 69 cents to close at $96.71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2884 from $1.2897 late Monday in New York. The dollar rose to 102.65 yen from 102.29 yen.

Originally published on Advisor.ca

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