PAMELA SAMPSON, AP Business Writer
BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets fell Monday as a looming leadership change in China and uncertainty about the outcome of the U.S. presidential election reduced appetite for riskier investments.
The race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney is virtually tied one day ahead of the election, generating an atmosphere of uncertainty that markets normally dislike.
Investors could awaken Wednesday without a clear winner. If the election comes down to a thin margin in a swing state such as Ohio, the outcome could be delayed for days or weeks.
"The worst case scenario for markets is for a prolonged period of uncertainty if the results produce no clear cut result," said analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.7 percent to 8,986.99. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.4 percent to 22,026.05. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.7 percent to 1,906.29. Benchmarks in mainland China and Singapore also fell. The Philippines PSEi rose 1 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 percent to 4,476.50.
A key political event also takes place this week in China, the world's No. 2 economy. Thursday marks the opening of the Communist Party congress — the once-in-a-decade forum used to name China's top leadership.
Tom Kaan, head of equity sales at Louis Capital Markets in Hong Kong, said it would be a "cause of concern" if China's new leaders do not take quick action to boost employment, particularly among the ranks of middle-income earners who have lost jobs amid the country's economic slowdown.
"Unemployment is one of the biggest concerns which nobody seems to be focusing on," he said. Investors are also hoping to see progress in the deregulation of China's financial markets.
Meanwhile, shares of South Korea's two largest carmakers plunged after the companies acknowledged overstating gas mileage on hundreds of thousands of cars sold in the U.S. Hyundai Motor Co., the country's largest carmaker, plummeted 7.4 percent and second-largest Kia Motors Corp. sank 6.5 percent.
The inflated mileage was uncovered in an audit of test results by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's inquiry into the overstated figures is continuing.
Toyota Motor Corp. rose 2.2 percent after public broadcaster NHK reported that Japan's No. 1 carmaker plans to raise its operating profit estimate by around 50 billion yen ($621 million) for the year ending March. Toyota will report quarterly earnings later in the day.
Japanese electronics firms continued to take hits. Sharp Corp. dropped 6.7 percent. Panasonic Corp. fell 4.4 percent. Fujitsu Ltd. lost 4.1 percent.
Benchmark oil for December delivery was up 26 cents to $85.11 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.23, or 2.2 percent, to close Friday in New York at $84.86 a barrel — its lowest level since July 10.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2824 from $1.2829 late Friday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 80.42 yen.