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World stocks cautious after Moody’s U.S. warning


TOKYO » World markets stumbled Thursday after Moody’s Investors Service threatened to lower the United States’ credit rating, spreading ripples of caution from Asia to Europe.

Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent to 5,876.13, France’s CAC 40 lost 0.5 percent to 3,772.97, and Germany’s DAX slipped 0.2 percent to 7,251.88. Dow futures, however, pointed to a moderate gain on Wall Street, rising 0.4 percent to 12,470.

Moody’s Investors Service said Wednesday there is a small but rising risk that Washington will default on its debt. The credit rating agency said it will review the U.S. government’s triple-A bond rating because the White House and Congress are running out of time to raise America’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit and avoid a default.

The government reached its borrowing limit in May. Treasury says the government will default on its debt if the limit is not raised by Aug. 2.

The announcement weighed sentiment in Asia, which spent most of the day in negative territory. Some markets, however, managed to eke out gains toward the end of the day.

Investors also looked ahead to U.S. corporate earnings.

"In a manner similar to the Chinese economy, corporate profits in the U.S., while slowing, remain quite strong," Barclays Capital equity strategist Barry Knapp said in a note to clients.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average finished down 0.3 percent at 9,936.12. Exporters lost ground as the dollar weakened against the yen, which reduces the value of overseas profits when repatriated.

The dollar fell into the mid-78 yen range at one point, prompting Japan’s finance minister to issue his strongest language this week on the Japanese currency.

"I think this is a move far removed from reality, and we will be troubled if this (trend) is underpinned," Noda told reporters, according to Kyodo News agency.

The dollar climbed back above the 79-yen line later in the day amid renewed speculation that Japan might intervene in currency markets.

Toyota Motor Corp. declined 0.7 percent, and Nintendo Co. shed 1.5 percent.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 percent to 4,490.70, and New Zealand’s benchmark closed down 0.4 percent to 3,409.55.

A profit warning from Australian department store operator David Jones Ltd. rocked the retail sector. The issue plunged more than 18 percent after telling investors to expect profit in the first half of 2012 to fall 15 to 20 percent. It said profit this year would fall by up to 2 percent.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. jumped 3.1 percent. The company withdrew its bid for British Sky Broadcasting Wednesday, acknowledging that it could not win government approval for the multibillion dollar takeover amid the phone hacking scandal engulfing its British newspapers.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index inched up 0.1 percent to 21,940.20, and South Korea’s Kospi finished nearly flat at 2,130.07. The Shanghai Composite Index climbed 0.5 percent to 2,810.40.

Resource-related shares benefited from rising metals prices, with gold miner Zijin Mining Group Co. surging 6.3 percent in China and Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. up 1.9 percent.

In New York Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 44.73, or 0.4 percent, to 12,491.61 after comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

In testimony before Congress, Bernanke said the central bank would be open to new economic stimulus measures, but only if the economy gets much worse. The remarks were far from a promise for more Fed action, but markets reacted immediately nonetheless.

The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 4.08, or 0.3 percent, to close at 1,317.72. The Nasdaq composite rose 15.01, or 0.5 percent, to 2,796.92.

Oil prices hovered near $98 a barrel in Asia as traders mulled a possible new round of U.S. monetary stimulus.

Benchmark crude for August delivery was up 32 cents at $98.36 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 62 cents to settle at $98.05 on Wednesday.

In currencies, the dollar was trading at 78.93 yen, while the euro stood at $1.42514.

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