Asia stocks waver ahead of 'fiscal cliff' deadline

Asian stock markets vacillated in thin trading Monday, as hopes faded for a budget deal by the end of the year that would prevent the U.S. from reaching the "fiscal cliff."

Markets have been on edge as President Barack Obama and Republican leaders squabble over how to reduce the U.S. government's budget deficit. Neither house of Congress is expected to meet again until after Christmas.

It's not clear how the two sides might reach a deal before Jan. 1, when automatic government spending cuts and tax increases are set to kick in if no deal is in place. Those changes, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, threaten to throw the world's No. 1 economy back into recession.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng, which opened lower, swung into positive territory to post an early 0.2 percent gain at 22,548. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 1,983.28. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 4,632.90, largely on the back of gains in resource shares. Mainland Chinese shares and stocks in Taiwan bounced between gains and losses.

Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday. Some stock markets will close early Monday for Christmas Eve, including those in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Among individual stocks, Cathay Pacific Airways rose 2 percent, days after flight attendants at the Hong Kong-based carrier settled a labor dispute. Australian mining contractor Macmahon Holdings plunged 6.4 percent.

Rising gold prices on Friday helped shares linked to the precious metal. Hong Kong-based Zijin Mining Group, China's largest gold miner, rose 2.4 percent. Australian gold miner Newcrest Mining gained 1 percent.

Wall Street stocks plunged Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.9 percent to close at 13,190.84. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.9 percent to 1,430.15, and the Nasdaq composite fell 1 percent to 3,021.01.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 18 cents to $88.48 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Friday, investors took money out of oil and other energy commodities, a sign that they expect the economy to slow. The contract for February delivery fell $1.47 to finish at $88.66 per barrel in New York, the contract's lowest point in three weeks.

In currencies, the euro rose slightly to $1.3179 from $1.3176 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 84.39 yen from 84.23 yen.


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