BANGKOK (TheBlaze/AP) — Asian stock markets fell Wednesday as traders watched the final hours of a cliffhanger U.S. presidential election whose conclusion would allow leaders of the world’s biggest economy to focus on issues other than the campaign.
Traders say one of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. is the looming “fiscal cliff,” a combination of higher taxes and government spending cuts that automatically takes effect unless Congress acts by Jan. 1. The total impact next year could be as high as $800 billion.
Deciding the election is the first step toward a resolution. President Barack Obama is locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Voting took place in the U.S. on Tuesday and a handful of states had reported results by the time Asian markets opened Wednesday.
“Whoever wins will face the colossal task of resolving the looming fiscal cliff but for now markets are hoping for a decisive outcome,” Mitul Kotecha of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong wrote in a market commentary.
The outcome of the race could also determine the future course of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s economic stimulus measures, since Romney has said that if he is elected, he will not reappoint Fed chief Ben Bernanke when his term expires in January 2014.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 index opened higher but then fell 0.1 percent to 8,965.17. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.2 percent to 21,908.29. South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 1,924.72. Benchmarks in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia also fell.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.2 percent to 4,491.60. Benchmarks in New Zealand, Indonesia and Taiwan also rose.
Stocks closed higher on Tuesday as Americans headed to the polls. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1 percent to 13,245.68. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.8 percent to 1,428.39. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.4 percent to 3,011.93.
Investors also watching developments in Greece, where a political crisis could derail an austerity package that is required for the country to receive its next batch of bailout funds. Without the money, Greece faces the prospect of going bankrupt this month and possibly leaving the euro.
Also on the radar: Thursday’s opening of China’s Communist Party congress – the once-in-a-decade forum to name China’s top leadership. Although current Vice President Xi Jinping is almost certain to be China’s next leader, markets will be looking for hints on how the new leadership plans to tackle the nation’s economic slowdown.
Benchmark oil for December delivery was down 43 cents to $88.27 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $3.06, or 3.5 percent, to finish at $88.71 in New York on Tuesday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2796 from $1.2817 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 80.03 yen from 80.26 yen.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.