Asian stock markets down after Wall Street decline as China growth target awaited

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BEIJING — Asian stock markets were mostly lower Wednesday after Wall Street declined and investors looked ahead to U.S. economic data and China's announcement of its annual growth target.

KEEPING SCORE: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 lost 0.9 percent to 18,643.71 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.4 percent to 24,600.52. Seoul's Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 1,998.19 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.5 percent to 5,907.40. The Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.2 percent at 3,257.72.

U.S. OUTLOOK: Investors were looking ahead to Wednesday's release of data on employment by ADP, a payroll processing company, and manufacturing data from the Institute for Supply Management. Those provide hints for the Labor Department's release of monthly jobs data Friday; the report is an important influence on the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decisions and scrutinized by financial markets.

CHINA TARGET: China's Premier Li Keqiang is expected to lower this year's official growth target to 7 percent from last year's 7.5 percent when he announces the government's economic plans Thursday in an appearance before the national legislature. The lower target after a decade of double-digit expansion is part of the ruling Communist Party's marathon effort to reduce China's reliance on trade and investment and nurture more self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption and service industries.

ANALYST'S TAKE: The U.S. economy appears strong despite data this week showing declines in construction spending and vehicle sales, according to Jim O'Sullivan of High-Frequency Economics. "We expect another fairly strong rise in payrolls and a drop in the unemployment rate in the February employment report on Friday," said O'Sullivan in a report.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks fell from record highs and the Nasdaq dropped below 5,000 a day after passing that milestone for the first time since the dot-com era 15 years ago. Losses were modest but broad, with eight industry sectors in the S&P index falling. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 85.26 points, or 0.5 percent, to 18,203.37. The Standard & Poor's 500 declined 9.61 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,107.78. The Nasdaq gave up 28.20 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 4,979.90.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 11 cents to $50.63 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 93 cents on Tuesday to close at $40.42. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 32 cents to $60.70 after surging $1.48 to $61.02 on Tuesday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar was little changed at 119.65 yen from the previous session's 119.66 yen. The euro edged down to $1.1174 from $1.1180.

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