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Interest Rate Fear Weighs on Asia Stocks

Japan’s Nikkei 225 led declines in Asia-Pacific markets on Friday as comments from U.S. Federal Reserve officials fueled worries that the central bank could hold off on rate cuts and sent Wall Street lower overnight.

The index collapsed 781.06 points, or 2%, to 38,992.08, the first time the index has slipped below 39,000 in about three weeks.

Japan’s household spending in February fell much less-than-expected, down 0.5% year on year in real terms, compared with Reuters’ expectations of a 3% fall.

Japan’s unions secured generous pay hikes for workers in the “shunto” wage negotiations in March, which is expected to fuel consumer spending.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index returned to trading with a loss of 1.18 points to 16,723.92.

Markets in Shanghai and Taiwan were closed for holiday.

Australia stocks slipped after a 2.2% drop in exports for February.

In other markets

In Korea, the Kospi index lost 27.79 points, or 1%, to 2,714.21.

Singapore’s Straits Times Index shed 16.75 points, or 0.5%, to 3,218.26.

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 lost 23.03 points, or 0.2%, to 12,012.23

In Australia, the ASX 200 moved downward 44.07 points, or 0.6%, to 7,773.27.