Asian stocks fall as uncertain Italian vote results weigh

HONG KONG — Asian shares fell in early trading Monday as investors evaluated the uncertain results of Italian elections and a report on China's economic plans for the year ahead.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.6 percent to 21,058.95 and South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.6 percent to 2,389.23. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 1.2 percent to 30,234.10 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China dipped 0.3 percent to 3,244.48. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 percent to 5,900.10.

ITALIAN VOTE: Projections showed no single party or bloc emerged from Sunday's election with enough support to win a majority in Parliament, setting the stage for an extended period of political uncertainty. The forecasts showed a center-right coalition that includes an anti-migrant party took a slight lead over the populist 5-Star Movement but neither were close to the threshold needed to form a government. Rival anti-Europe parties garnered more than half the vote, a result that's likely to unsettle the European Union and possibly financial markets.

QUOTEWORTHY: "The messy Italian election result adds a bit to the nervousness around global equity markets at present," said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital in Sydney.

CHINA CONGRESS: Beijing set an annual growth target for the world's No. 2 economy of "around 6.5 percent" for 2018 at the opening of a legislative session. The number announced by Premier Li Keqiang is down from the 6.9 expansion recorded last year but would still be among the world's strongest rates if achieved. Li also detailed in his report to the ceremonial National People's Congress plans to forge ahead with an overhaul of state industry.

SERVICES SURVEY: A survey showed that activity in China's services industry cooled slightly last month but remained solidly in expansion mode. Caixin's general services purchasing managers' index dipped to 54.2 in February from 54.7 the previous month, on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 signify expansion.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended mostly higher on Friday. The S&P 500 ended 0.5 percent higher at 2,691.25 while the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 percent to 24,538.06. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.1 percent to 7,257.87.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 105.51 Japanese yen from 105.74 yen late Friday. The euro rose to $1.2327 from $1.2320.

ENERGY: Oil futures extended their rally. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 36 cents to $61.61 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange in New York. The contract rose 26 cents to settle at $61.25 per barrel on Friday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 34 cents to $64.71 a barrel.

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