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Nikkei weighs on markets ahead of more U.S. figures

LONDON Disappointment at Japan's latest package of measures designed to boost its economy coupled with concerns over the course of U.S. monetary policy to weigh on markets Wednesday.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index had another day to forget as investors appeared disappointed at the lack of detail in a keynote speech on the economy from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Nikkei closed down 3.8 percent at 13,014.87, another big swing that means it has fallen around 20 percent from its peak in mid-May -- the commonly used definition of a bear market.

"Abe's speech today unveiling his growth strategy failed to live up to the market's expectations, revealing little that was new and focusing rather too much on long term aspirations for most tastes," said Simon Derrick, a senior analyst at Bank of New York Mellon.

For much of this year, the Nikkei had been the darling of stock investors as it rose by nearly a half as investors hoped a big monetary stimulus from the Bank of Japan would finally get the world's number 3 economy out of its near two-decade stagnation.

The latest setback in the Nikkei made traders in Europe cautious. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.7 percent at 6,501 while Germany's DAX fell 0.4 percent to 8,262. The CAC-40 in France was 0.6 percent lower at 3,903.

Wall Street was poised for a modest retreat at the open, with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.2 percent.

The focus over the rest of the day will likely center on the latest batch of U.S. economic data as investors try and work out when the U.S. Federal Reserve may start reducing the amount of government bonds it has been buying in the markets as part of its stimulus program.

On Tuesday, Esther George, a policymaker at the Fed, indicated she supported slowing the pace of the bond purchases "as an appropriate next step."

For the past few weeks, market directions have largely depended on the vagaries of the U.S. economic data and their implications for the future of the Fed's monetary stimulus program.

Later, the monthly hiring report from private payrolls firm ADP is due. Though its figures do not always accurately predict the government's official figures, due Friday, the ADP has form in moving markets.

Also, the Institute for Supply Management will release its monthly survey on the services sector. The equivalent manufacturing report on Monday was disappointing and reined in market expectations of an imminent tapering of the Fed's stimulus program.

"The market keeps its focus on the U.S. as the tug of war over the Fed's tapering continues," said Anthony Lam, an analyst at Credit Agricole CIB.

The Fed's monetary stimulus program has been a big boon to stock markets over the past few years. The latest purchases, amounting to $85 billion a month, have helped propel many global stock indexes to record highs this year. The purchases are designed to keep interest rates low and giving the U.S. economy a lift. A reduction in the amount purchased would indicate that the Fed is more confident about the outlook.

In the currency markets, the dollar has generally risen when expectations grew that the Fed would limit its stimulus program earlier than planned.

Ahead of the latest U.S. figures, the euro was down 0.1 percent at $1.3064 while the dollar was 0.5 percent lower at 99.63 yen.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 1 percent to 22,069.24 while South Korea's Kospi fell 1.5 percent to 1,959.19. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 1.3 percent to 4,835.20. Benchmarks in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and mainland China fell.

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