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Written by: Staff

SINGAPORE, Aug 24 (Reuters) Fears that a US slowdown could dent earnings beat down Asian export stocks on Thursday, and the euro edged lower ahead of German economic data.

London spread betters predicted European stocks would open a touch higher, gold was flat at around $623 an ounce, and crude oil sat below $72 a barrel after a 2 percent drop overnight on higher U.S. stockpiles.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei average closed down 1.25 percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng was off 0.3 percent and MSCI's index of non-Japan Asian shares lost 1.2 percent by 0630 GMT.

The falls followed news that the pace of U.S. existing home sales in July fell 4.1 percent, more-than-expected, weighing on the prospects for house values and therefore on U.S. households' willingess to buy goods on credit.

In past weeks, Asia equity investors have welcomed news of a cooling U.S. economy in the hope that interest rates there will stay lower for longer, keeping a lid on credit costs and supporting spending on imports.

However, more recently, signs that growth is slowing anyway have taken centre stage.

''The focus of the market is going to shift from the outlook for U.S. interest rates to the U.S. economy,'' said Park Suk-hyun, an analyst at Kyobo Securities in Seoul.

Australian building materials maker Rinker, which makes about 80 percent of its earnings in the United States, fell 2.15 percent, South Korea's Samsung Electronics, the world's top memory chip maker, dropped 1.4 percent, and Japan's export bellwether Canon eased 2.3 percent.

Energy firms, including CNOOC, down 0.7 percent, were also under pressure after Wednesday's oil price fall on news that U.S. gasoline and heating fuel supplies increased.

Chinese alumina group Chalco jumped 5.3 percent on better-than-expected earnings.

BHP OUT OF FAVOUR But it wasn't all good news on the metals and mining side. BHP Billiton shares compounded Wednesday's fall with a further 3.1 percent slip on disappointment that a proposed $3 billion return of capital to shareholders was not larger.

Morgan Stanley cut its price target for the world No.1 mining firm's London listing to 1,450 pence from 1,600, and ING cut the stock from its focus list, citing the potential impact of a U.S.

slowdown on the business. BHP closed in London on Wednesday at 1,014 pence.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average dipped 0.4 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.7 percent.

EURO DRIVER The euro edged down as investors awaited data on the business climate in Germany -- due at 0800 GMT -- for more clues about the economic outlook in the euro zone.

The single currency has climbed 3 percent against the dollar since mid-July, and rose on Wednesday after the U.S. housing numbers cemented expectations for U.S. rates to stay on hold.

It was sold earlier this week after a German index of economic expectations hit a five-year low.

''The market continues to be driven by the euro,'' said a trader at a Japanese trust bank. ''It will pay close attention to the Ifo's business index and details of German growth.'' The euro edged down to $1.2772 from around $1.2790 in late U.S.

trade, staying well below a two-month high of $1.2940 touched on Monday on a run of upbeat euro zone data. It was also a touch lower at 148.73 yen off a record high of 149.75 yen at the start of the week.

The dollar was nearly flat at 116.46 yen Japanese government bond futures eased after a weak auction result, but not before an early rally where the 20-year JGB yield fell as much as 1.5 basis points to 2.180 percent, its lowest since June 14, on retreating expectations of a Bank of Japan rate rise.


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