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Stock market today: Asian shares fall over China worries, Seoul trading closed for a holiday

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower Thursday in subdued trading on looming worries about China property woes.

Trading in shares of heavily indebted Chinese property developer China Evergrande Group was suspended in Hong Kong. That followed media reports that the chairman of Evergrande, Hui Ka Yan, had been taken away earlier this month and placed under police watch.

Evergrande is the world’s most heavily indebted real estate developer and is at the center of a property market crisis that is dragging on China’s economic growth.

“The relatively quiet economic calendar today may lead sentiments on a more subdued tone, while reservations on risk taking may continue to revolve around developments on China’s property sector,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market analyst at IG.

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The Hang Seng index slid 1.2% to 17,390.50 in morning trading. The Shanghai Composite was up less than 0.1% at 3,108.51.

Trading was closed in South Korea for a holiday. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 1.7% to 31,813.01. Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 was little changed at 7,029.30.

On Wall Street, shares finished mixed after rising oil prices and bond yields cranked up the pressure even higher on the stock market.

After taking several U-turns through the day, the S&P 500 inched up 0.98, or less than 0.1%, to 4,274.51 and remains near its lowest level since June. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 68.61 points, or 0.2%, to 33,550.27 after earlier bouncing between a gain of 112 points and a loss of 312. The Nasdaq composite rose 29.24, or 0.2%, to 13,092.85.

September is on track to be the S&P 500’s worst month of the year as the stock market tries to absorb a leap by Treasury yields to heights unseen in more than a decade. High yields mean bonds are paying more in interest, which makes investors less willing to pay high prices for stocks and other riskier investments.

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The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose further Wednesday, to 4.61% from 4.55%. That’s up from about 3.50% in May and from just 0.50% early in the pandemic. It has soared as Wall Street increasingly accepts a new normal where interest rates will stay high for longer.

After more than a decade in which the Federal Reserve would quickly cut rates in order to help the economy, still-high inflation is now discouraging the Fed from lowering rates. Its main interest rate is already at its highest level since 2001, and the Fed indicated last week it will cut rates in 2024 by less than earlier expected.

Strategists at Bank of America say yields could keep rising. Even if the Fed is close to done with hiking its overnight interest rate, it could hold the rate there for a long time.

It’s all brought an end to the old era of investing in which the mantra was “There Is No Alternative” to stocks because bonds were paying such scant yields. With bonds now paying much more and providing real alternatives, stock prices could feel downward pressure for a while.

Even so, the “Fed won’t be overly reactive” to drops in stock prices because the overall economy remains solid, strategists led by Mark Cabana wrote in a BofA Global Research report.

A report on Wednesday said orders for long-lasting manufactured goods were stronger last month than economists expected. It’s the latest signal that the overall economy remains solid despite much higher interest rates.

The upside of such strength means the economy has avoided a long-predicted recession. But it could also keep enough upward pressure on inflation to encourage the Fed to keep rates high.

Costco Wholesale was another winner, rising 1.9% after it reported stronger profit for the latest quarter than analysts expected.

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Besides high interest rates, a long list of other worries is also tugging at financial markets. The most immediate is the threat of another U.S. government shutdown as Capitol Hill threatens a stalemate that could shut off federal services across the country as soon as this weekend.

Stock prices have managed through past shutdowns relatively well, but conditions may be a little different this time. Economists at Goldman Sachs expect all data reports from the federal government to be postponed during a shutdown. That could complicate things for the Federal Reserve, which has said repeatedly it will make its upcoming decisions on interest rates based on what reports say about inflation and the job market.

Several highly influential reports are supposed to come in the coming weeks. The next monthly jobs report is due on Oct. 6, and two big inflation reports are due the following week.

Other threats looming over Wall Street include shaky economies around the world, a strike by U.S. auto workers that could put more upward pressure on inflation and a resumption of U.S. student-loan repayments that could dent spending by households.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude added 94 cents to $94.62 a barrel. It rallied $3.29 to settle at $93.68 per barrel Wednesday, up from less than $70 in June. It’s threatening to top $100 again for the first time since the summer of 2022. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 90 cents to $97.45 a barrel.

Crude’s spurt helped stocks in the oil and gas industries to some of the market’s most significant gains. Marathon Oil rose 4.2%, and Devon Energy climbed 4% Wednesday on Wall Street.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar fell to 149.41 Japanese yen from 149.63 yen. The euro cost $1.0503, little changed from $1.0509.


AP Business Writers Stan Choe and Zen Soo contributed to this report.