PAMELA SAMPSONBANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ World stock markets fell Friday ahead of the U.S. government's estimate of economic growth in the latest quarter, which is expected to show improvement but not enough to jolt the global economy out of its doldrums. Economists expect the government to report growth at an annual rate of 1.8 percent for the third quarter. While that would be an improvement over 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter, it would not be enough to reduce unemployment perceptibly or increase U.S. demand for imports. The world's No. 1 economy was a mainstay of global growth until the 2008 financial crisis. Since then it has grown at a crawl. Europe's debt crisis has added to headwinds while emerging powerhouses such as China have also slowed. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent to 5,774.36. Germany's DAX lost 0.5 percent to 7,163.75. France's CAC-40 shed 0.7 percent to 3,388.73. Wall Street was also headed for a fall. Dow Jones industrial futures fell 0.8 percent to 12,955 and S&P 500 futures lost 0.7 percent to 1,397.50. Asian stocks posted losses earlier in the day after data on U.S. housing dimmed hopes of improvement in an industry that is crucial to recovery in the world's No. 1 economy. The National Association of Realtors' index of sales agreements showed Thursday that the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose only slightly in September from August. That suggests sales may level off in the coming months after solid gains in the past year. The figures were a letdown for investors whose hopes had been bolstered by data Wednesday that showed new home sales rose last month to the highest annual pace in the past two and a half years. Japan's Nikkei 225 index slid 1.4 percent to close at 8,933.06. South Korea's Kospi tumbled 1.7 percent to 1,891.43. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 1.2 percent to 21,545.57. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent to 4,472.40.
Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index sank 1.7 percent to 2,066.21 and the Shenzhen Composite Index shed 2 percent to 840.51.Shanghai-listed Baotou Steel Rare-Earth (Group) Hi-Tech Co., China's top rare earths producer, lost 7 percent two days after announcing it had suspended production in an effort to shore up plunging prices of rare earths. Investors preferred to book profits on recent gains while waiting for additional data to confirm recent signs that China's manufacturing slowdown may be close to bottoming out. "The Hong Kong market is at a relatively high level. We need more data to confirm what is our next move, so now it's time for profit-taking," said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. Among individual stocks, Kia Motors Corp. plummeted 5.6 percent after the company reported a third-quarter net profit that was below expectations. The company, South Korea's second-largest carmaker, was hobbled by a labor strike over the summer and weak domestic sales. Samsung Electronics fell 2.7 percent, even though the company posted a record third quarter profit as concerns over long-term growth weighed stocks down. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world's largest contract chip maker, jumped 3 percent a day after saying its third-quarter profit rose 62 percent from a year earlier. Benchmark oil for December delivery was down 90 cents to $85.12 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 32 cents to finish at $86.05 in New York on Thursday, its first rise in four days. In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2930 from $1.2949. The dollar fell to 79.94 yen from 80.29 yen. ___ Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson ___ AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.