Asian shares swung between gains and losses before ending mixed on Friday, as continued worries about slowing global growth tempered gains stemming from reports that Eurozone leaders will likely achieve positive results on the region's sovereign debt crisis at the upcoming Eurozone Finance Ministers' meeting in Copenhagen starting today.
With worries growing about Spain's fiscal health, alongside its neighbor Portugal, the ministers will discuss boosting the combined firepower of the region's two bailout funds to as high as EUR 940 billion from EUR 500 billion, reports say.
Tokyo stocks finished lower, with the Nikkei average falling 0.3 percent to end lower for the third straight day, as data showing an unexpected drop in Japanese industrial production for the first time in three months in February hurt sentiment. The broader Topix index of all First Section issues on the Tokyo Stock Exchange shed 0.4 percent. For the fiscal 2011 year, the Nikkei average rose 3.4 percent, marking its first gain in two years.
Industrial production in Japan fell a seasonally adjusted 1.2 percent in February from the previous month, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a preliminary reading. That was well shy of forecasts for an increase of 1.3 percent following the 1.9 percent expansion in January. On an annual basis, output climbed 1.5 percent - again missing expectations for an increase of 3.7 percent following the 1.3 percent contraction in the previous month.
The yen's appreciation versus the U.S. dollar dragged down export-linked shares. Honda Motor shed 0.9 percent, Canon lost a percent and Sony fell 2.4 percent. Heavyweight Fanuc tumbled 2.9 percent in heavy volume on a brokerage downgrade. Financial shares ended subdued, with Tokio Marine Holdings and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group falling 1-2 percent, as weak industrial output data intensified worries about domestic demand.
China's Shanghai Composite index rose half a percent, as investors hunted for bargains following losses in the past three sessions. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended down 0.3 percent, dragged down by property developers after the billionaire owners of Sun Hung Kai Properties were arrested as part of a corruption probe.
Australian shares ended little changed with a negative bias after touching a five-month high early in the session. Both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries index ended down about 0.05 percent each. The big four banks ended mostly lower, with ANZ, Commonwealth and NAB losing between 0.7 percent and 1.6 percent, while Westpac rose marginally. In mining, BHP Billiton rose 1.1 percent and Rio Tinto gained 1.6 percent, but smaller rival Fortescue shed 0.7 percent and gold miner Newcrest lost 1.8 percent.
BHP today announced that its iron ore division head, Ian Ashby, would be leaving on 1 July 2012 after more than 25 years with the company. Rio Tinto said separately that it has become a member of the new China Beijing Metals Exchange, an electronic trading platform that will provide participating members with an additional iron ore trading channel in the China market.
Leighton Holdings tumbled 3.8 percent, extending the previous session's losses, after the construction giant warned of further deep losses at Victoria's desalination plant. Energy firms edged lower, with Woodside and Santos losing over a percent each, after light sweet crude oil futures ended the New York session at six-week lows. Qantas lost 1.7 percent after the airline raised ticket prices and fuel surcharges to counter high jet fuel prices.
South Korean stocks ended a range-bound session largely unchanged, with the benchmark Kospi slipping 0.02 percent, as growing concerns over the global economy kept investors on the sidelines. For the quarter, the benchmark index rose about 10 percent, its best quarterly performance in 2-1/2 years. Crude oil refiners finished the session on a firm note, with S-Oil and SK Innovation rising 0.5 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively.
Shares of Hynix Semiconductor, the world's No. 2 computer memory-chip maker, tumbled 4.1 percent. South Korea's stock exchange asked the company to comment on a report that it will take part in a bid for Japan's Elpida Memory, which filed for bankruptcy protection, according to a regulatory filing.
In economic news, the nation's industrial output grew a a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent in February from the previous month, beating expectations, data from Statistics Korea revealed. The government also revised its January figure to show a 3.2 percent increase in industrial production. For the full year, industrial production was up 14.4 percent, following a revised 2.1 percent year-over-year decline the month before.
New Zealand shares rose modestly, with the benchmark NZX-50 index rising 0.4 percent to a two-week high. The benchmark index gained about 7 percent for the quarter, as massive liquidity injections from global central banks soothed global growth worries. Retailers led the gainers, with children's clothing retailer Pumpkin Patch climbing 3 percent, while clothing chain Hallenstein Glasson Holdings added 1.3 percent.
Utility Contact Energy gained 1.3 percent after the company urged the stock exchange to stagger its move to a 'free-float' method of calculating index weightings. Shares of Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, ended unchanged after government data showed New Zealand building consents rose 1.2 per cent in February. National carrier Air New Zealand fell 1.2 percent, rubber goods and milking equipment manufacturer Skellerup Skellerup Holdings lost 0.7 percent and carpet maker Cavalier shed half a percent.
India's benchmark Sensex was last trading up 1.9 percent, as the Reserve Bank of India's surprise decision to infuse Rs.10,000 crore into the system via open market operations gave rise to hopes that it would announce more such bond-buying programs in the coming months to ease the liquidity crunch. The Indian rupee gained 30 paise versus the greenback post RBI's surprise move.
Elsewhere, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was up 0.4 percent, Malaysia's KLSE Composite gained 0.7 percent, Singapore's Straits Times index was up 0.4 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average added 0.8 percent.
On Wall Street, stocks fell early in the session before eventually ending on a mixed note overnight, as traders reacted negatively to the latest batch of U.S. economic data, including a report from the Labor Department showing that weekly jobless claims came in above economist estimates. The Dow made its way into positive territory to end up 0.2 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq slipped 0.3 percent and the S&P 500 edged down 0.2 percent.
by RTT Staff Writer
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