Global shares lower as investors await Fed chair's speech

SEOUL: Global shares slipped Friday as investors awaited a speech by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen later in the day. Markets in Hong Kong and Shanghai lost ground ahead of Sunday's opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain's FTSE lost 0.3 percent to 7,360.12 while France's CAC 40 fell 0.2 percent to 4,954.95. Germany's DAX dropped 0.5 percent to 12,002.44. Wall Street looked set for a slow start, with Dow futures down 0.2 percent while S&P futures fell 0.3 percent.

FED WATCH: Fed Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to give a speech in Chicago later Friday. Her speech, along with jobs data next week, will give more clues to investors on the Fed's movement.

US jobless claims fell to the lowest level in decades last week, strengthening the belief that the central bank is moving closer to achieving its full employment and inflation targets, analysts said.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: Expectations are high that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this month. "If this were happening a year ago, share markets would have gone into a tailspin.

But because the US economy is stronger now, the Fed's confidence in the outlook actually seems to be supporting the share market," Shane Oliver of AMP Capital said in a commentary. But he added that "After the strong gains since the US election, the likelihood of a short-term share market correction remains high."

SOUTH KOREA: Investors dumped shares in South Korean companies that rely on trade with China out of concern Beijing may retaliate over the deployment of an advanced US missile defense system that China strongly opposes but the US and South Korea say is needed as a defense against North Korea. Shares in cosmetics company Amorepacific, which has major business in China, sank 12.7 percent to the lowest level in about a year. Tourism and entertainment companies also fell.

CHINA CONGRESS: Shares in Hong Kong and Shanghai slipped ahead of the opening of National People's Congress' annual session. While the largely ceremonial legislature is expected to steer clear of dramatic reforms, leaders may announce new measures to rein in debt and tighten oversight of financial markets.

JAPAN ECONOMY: Inflation and jobless rates were little changed in January and consumer spending was lackluster. Economic data released Friday show the world's No. 3 economy coasting along with only slight improvements despite recent stronger exports and manufacturing output.

ASIA'S DAY: Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.5 percent to 19,469.17 while South Korea's Kospi sank 1.1 percent to 2,078.75. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost 0.7 percent to 23,552.72 and the Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.4 percent to 3,218.31. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.8 percent to 5,729.60. Stocks in Taiwan, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries were also lower.

OIL: Benchmark US crude added 17 cents to $52.78 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.22, or 2.3 percent, to close at $52.61 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 19 cents to $55.27 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 114.29 yen from 114.42 yen. The euro rose to $1.0524 from $1.0508.