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Asian shares fall; Hong Kong enters a bear market

Shares in Asia fell Thursday, as the outlook for the timing of a rise in U.S. interest rates remains cloudy and investors brace for the impact of the International Monetary Fund’s signals that it won’t add the yuan to its basket of reserve currencies for at least a year.

On Thursday, China’s central bank set the yuan’s trading midpoint sharply stronger, at 6.3915 per U.S. dollar USDCNY, -0.0078% compared with 6.3963 a day earlier. The currency can trade within a 2% band above or below that. It last traded at 6.3915 against the U.S. dollar.

The Shanghai Composite Index SHCOMP, -4.27% was down 1.7% at ,3728.85 after a volatile day of trading Wednesday that rippled into global markets. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index 399106, -5.39% was off 1.8%.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, -1.53% fell 1.7% and a gauge of Chinese companies listed in the city is down 1.7%. The index has fallen more than 20% from a high reached in April, the definition of a bear market.

“The basic thematic is that emerging markets have gone out of favor,” said Shane Oliver, an investment strategist at AMP Capital. “In Asia, the latest selloff has been triggered by the devaluation although each day there’s something new that reinforces the wariness of investors.”

China’s currency has held steady for the past several days in the wake of the tumult sparked by the central bank’s move to devalue the yuan last week. The central bank has kept the yuan’s daily fixing within a fraction of the levels set on previous days.

Late Wednesday, the IMF’s executive board approved an extension of the current basket of reserve currencies included in its special drawing rights to Sept. 30, 2016. The move confirms an earlier proposal for a delay in the five-year reshuffling of the basket, which currently doesn’t include the yuan.

The move was another blow to the Chinese currency, which suffered its biggest one day loss in two decades last week after the devaluation. China said the move was part of a plan to allow the market a greater role in exchange rates.

Elsewhere, a lack of clarity on the timing of a rise in short-term U.S. interest rates drove stocks lower.

The S&P ASX 200 XJO, -1.40% was off 1.7%, South Korea’s Kospi SEU, -2.01% slipped 0.9% and the Nikkei Stock Average NIK, -2.98% was down 0.7%.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s July meeting provided no clear sign of having settled on whether to raise interest rates in their September meeting, given wide-ranging views about factors from U.S. economic data to the role of China’s slowing growth.

“Investors are in a state of heightened nervous so comments about global uncertainty get latched on to,” including the Fed’s minutes, said AMP’s Mr. Oliver.

U.S. stocks have rallied in the years of the Fed’s ultralow interest-rate policy, a tactic mirrored by other global central banks and markets. The prospect of higher interest rates could dim the outlook for corporate profits and futures stock gains.

Oil prices fell to a fresh six year low overnight after data showed a surprise increase in U.S. stockpiles, adding to the glut of crude around the globe. Worries about future demand as the Chinese economy loses steam have also weighed on commodity prices.

Brent crude oil LCOV5, -0.60% was down 0.7% at $46.85 in Asia trade.

U.S. stocks slipped overnight amid a selloff of energy stocks.

On Wednesday, China shares spent most of the session in negative territory before a late-day turnaround. The Shanghai Composite Index ended up 1.2% after falling as much as 5%. The rebound came after a number of companies disclosed that state-backed firms were among their top shareholders, bolstering investors’ confidence that the government was stepping in to support the market.