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KOSPI May Inch Lower On Thursday

The South Korea stock market has moved higher in two of three trading days since the end of the six-day slide in which it had lost more than 35 points or 1.8 percent. The KOSPI finished just above the 1,975-point plateau, and now traders may be tempted to lock in gains when the market opens on Thursday.

The global forecast for the Asian markets is flat with a touch of weakness, with mixed economic data likely tempered by profit taking after the markets rallied in the previous session. Eurozone industrial production fell less than expected in December, while retail sales in the United States crept up just 0.1 percent in January. The European markets were higher and the U.S. bourses were mixed, and the Asian markets figure to split the difference.

The KOSPI finished sharply higher on Wednesday following gains from the technology stocks and oil companies.

For the day, the index surged 30.28 points or 1.56 percent to finish at the daily high of 1,976.07 after trading as low as 1,950.58.

Among the actives, Samsung Electronics jumped 1.3 percent, SK Innovation spiked 4.4 percent and POSCO jumped 1.3 percent, while CJ Cheiljedang shed 1.2 percent and GS Retail lost 2 percent.

The lead from Wall Street conveys little guidance as stocks turned in another lackluster performance on Wednesday, extending the trend seen over the past few sessions. The major averages eventually ended the day mixed for the second consecutive session.

Uncertainty about the near-term outlook for the markets contributed to choppy trading, as the Commerce Department's closely watched monthly retail sales report did not provide much momentum for the markets in either direction. While the report showed that retail sales edged up by just 0.1 percent in January, economists noted that it could have been worse in light of the recent increase in payroll taxes.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed that import prices rebounded by less than expected in January, while export prices rose in line with estimates.

Traders also digested President Barack Obama's State of the Union address from Tuesday night, although it remains to be seen how much progress can be made in light of the gridlock in Washington. Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage as well as a boost to investment in infrastructure. The president also continued to push his proposals on immigration, gun control, and climate change.

Among individual stocks, Comcast (CMCSA) posted a notable gain after the cable company agreed to acquire General Electric's (GE) entire 49 percent stake in the NBCUniversal joint venture for about $16.7 billion, taking full control of the media company earlier than expected. Comcast rose 3 percent on the news, while GE also advanced 3.6 percent.

Shares of Albemarle (ALB) also moved sharply higher after the specialty chemical company announced a 20 percent increase in its dividend and increased its share repurchase authorization.

On the other hand, Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) tumbled by 20 percent after the mining and natural resources company slashed its quarterly cash dividend by 76 percent.

The major U.S. averages were mixed again on Wednesday as the Dow shed 35.79 points or 0.3 percent to finish at 13,982.91, while the NASDAQ added 10.39 points or 0.3 percent to close at 3,196.88, and the S&P 500 inched up 0.90 points or 0.1 percent to end at 1,520.33.

In economic news, the Bank of Korea also will on Thursday conclude its monetary policy meeting and announce its decision on interest rates. The bank is widely expected to keep rates on hold at the current level of 2.75 percent.

by RTT Staff Writer

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