SEOUL, South Korea — Asian stock markets were uneven Wednesday ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting and a monthly U.S. job report later in the week that could cement a Fed interest rate hike this month.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 was down 0.1 percent to 20,002.12 and South Korea's Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 2,020.97. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged down less than 0.1 percent to 5,265.60. The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.1 percent to 3,458.95 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.2 percent to 22,416.61.
EUROPE STIMULUS: Investors expect the European Central Bank will expand its stimulus program when policymakers meet on Thursday, either by extending its bond-buying program beyond the current end date of September 2016 or by increasing the purchase amount. Investors are also expecting an interest rate cut. ECB head Mario Draghi signaled that action is coming this week as the bank seeks to support growth and push inflation higher.
US RATES: The Federal Reserve is expected by markets to raise its policy interest rate when it meets this month even though U.S. factory activity fell to the lowest in more than six years in November. Investors are keyed into Fed chief Janet Yellen's speech set for Wednesday, as well as the November jobs report, scheduled to be released on Friday, which comes shortly before the Fed's two-day policy meeting. Unless the November employment figures are extraordinarily weak, investors believe the Fed will raise interest rates from a record low this month for the first time since the financial crisis.
WALL STREET: U.S. stocks closed higher on the first day of December, helped by financial stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 168.43 points, or 1 percent, to 17,888.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 22.22 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,102.63 and the Nasdaq composite rose 47.64 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,156.31.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 22 cents to $41.63 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract closed up 20 cents at $41.85 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, which is used to price oil internationally, lost 14 cents to $44.30 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The U.S. dollar strengthened to 123.04 yen from its previous close of 122.90 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0619 from $1.0629.