TOKYO — Asian stock markets sank Friday amid weak factory production figures from Japan as investors traded with caution ahead of a U.S. economic growth report.

The Nikkei 225 stock average dropped 159.42 points, or 1.7 percent, to 9,206.61 in the morning session.

Sentiment was sluggish in Tokyo on a strong yen, which hurts exporters as it cuts the value of their repatriated profits. The dollar slumped below the 81 yen level again in Tokyo, nearing a post World War II record low of 79.75 yen set in 1995.

Adding to the gloom, Japan's industrial production fell for the fourth straight month in September, underscoring the country's fragile recovery. Factory output tumbled 1.9 percent from the previous month, much worse than a 0.6 percent fall forecast by analysts.

South Korea's Kospi lost 1.1 percent to 1,887.36. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.4 percent at 4,735.90.

Elsewhere, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.3 percent to 2,984.76 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng also shed 0.5 percent to 23,086.77.

Shares in Singapore and Taiwan also declined. But markets in New Zealand and Malaysia edged up.

In New York on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average declined 12.33 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 11,113.95. Investors took a wait-and-see stance ahead of Friday's release of U.S. economic growth figures for the third quarter which are likely to confirm the world's No. 1 economy is struggling to expand.

Investors also were wrestling with uncertainty over the size and shape of the U.S. Federal Reserve's widely expected monetary easing early next week.

The U.S. central bank is expected to launch bond purchases in a bid to stimulate the U.S. economy. The bond purchases are intended to drive interest rates lower and encourage lending and spending in a bid to spur the economy.

The Fed will meet next week and details of any stimulus are expected to be announced when the meeting wraps up Nov. 3.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 80.63 yen from 81.04 yen in New York late Thursday. The euro slipped to $1.3897 from $1.3925.

Benchmark oil for December delivery down 18 cents at $82.00 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 24 cents to settle at $82.18 a barrel on Thursday. (AP)