South-east Asia markets mixed ahead of US Federal Reserve meeting

(Reuters) - South-east Asian markets were range-bound on Wednesday as nervous investors awaited to hear when the US Federal Reserve would begin unwinding its stimulus programme, a major driver for global risk assets in recent years.

A better-than-expected report on US house builder confidence and inflation data suggesting low but stable price growth, supported the view that economic conditions are adequate for the Fed to start scaling back its US$85 billion monthly bond-buying.

Bangkok's SET index was up 0.9 per cent at 1,349.34 points by midday despite a weaker baht, led by an over 5.8 per cent gain in Advanced Info Service and a 3.1 per cent rise in Total Access Communication.

The market's expectation of "not too bad news" from the Fed meeting and smaller foreign outflows have boosted sentiment, Teerada Charnyingyong, a Bangkok-based strategist at broker Phillip Securities, said.

"However, local political uncertainty, especially after the protest leaders have called for a big demonstration again this weekend, may cap the index upside at around 1,360-1,380 for this week," Charnyingyong said.

The Jakarta Composite Index rose 0.3 per cent, led by shares in infrastructure and finance companies, also despite a fall in the rupiah.

The Philippine index recovered from early losses and was trading 0.3 per cent up at a more-than-one-week high.

Investors have been nervous about when the Fed will start tapering its US$85 billion-a-month bond-buying programme.

A majority of economists polled earlier expected the taper to start in March, but a recent run of upbeat economic data from the US has steadily shortened the odds on an announcement to this week's two-day meeting concluding on Wednesday, or in January.

Malaysia's share index was down 0.1 per cent, from a record closing high in the previous session.

Singapore's benchmark index was also down 0.1 per cent, while Vietnam eased 0.2 per cent, led by real estate shares on investor concerns about the government's sluggish social housing stimulus package.