Asia Markets Rattled by Flash Crash

HONG KONG (AP) -- Asian stock markets were rattled Friday after the pound briefly and mysteriously plummeted to a fresh 31-year low in early trading amid persistent concerns about Britain's exit from the European Union.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 0.2 percent to 16,860.09 and South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.5 percent to 2,054.54. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.5 percent to 23,829.86 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 percent to 5,467.40. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Southeast Asia and India also lost ground. Markets in mainland China were closed for a weeklong holiday.

CURRENCY CHAOS: The pound tumbled sharply, slumping as much as 6 percent to its lowest in more than three decades, before rebounding somewhat, although the reasons for the "flash crash" were unclear. The British currency, which was trading at around $1.26 on Thursday, plunged past the $1.20 level early Friday before recovering minutes later and was recently trading around $1.24. Possible triggers cited by market watchers included a trader's "fat finger" mistake, a rogue automated trading algorithm or comments to British media by French President Francois Hollande, who insisted the European Union must take tough stance in negotiating Britain's exit from the bloc's tariff-free single market. In other currencies, the dollar edged up to 103.97 yen from 103.96 yen and the euro eased to $1.1121 from $1.1139.

QUOTEWORTHY: Foreign exchange "traders will have woken up this morning stunned," said Margaret Yang of CMC Markets in Singapore. "The drop could be a fast 'snowball effect' triggered by panic selling and reinforced by stop loss orders and forced liquidation."

JOB REPORT: Investors are awaiting a U.S. report out later Friday that economists expect to show employers added a solid number of jobs in September while the unemployment rate stayed low. A strong result will boost the chances that Fed policymakers will soon move to raise short-term interest rates from ultralow levels that have supported a multiyear stock market boom.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended with little change. The S&P 500 inched up less than 0.1 percent to 2,160.77. The Dow Jones industrial average fell less than 0.1 percent to 18,268.50. The Nasdaq composite slipped 0.2 percent to 5,306.85.

ENERGY: Oil hovered at a three-month high. U.S. benchmark crude oil futures rose 5 cents to $50.49 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 61 cents to close at $50.44 a barrel on Thursday, its first close above $50 a barrel since June 23. Brent crude, the international standard, dipped 1 cent to $52.50 a barrel in London.