Asian Markets Close Mixed, Tokyo Falls
Asian markets closed mixed, with stocks under pressure as the U.S. dollar slumped to a record low against the euro in the afternoon session Friday. Japan shed over 1 percent but South Korea and Australia both finished higher.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke highlighted concerns about weakness in the U.S. economy, Asia's top export destination, during his testimony to U.S. lawmakers Thursday. Bernanke warned U.S. growth could prove weaker than expected and inflation higher, although he said the U.S. economy did not appear headed for recession.
This, together with a Standard & Poor's report that a collateralized debt obligation (CDO) managed by State Street Global Advisors may have started selling assets, brought credit fears back to the forefront and reinforced expectations that the Fed will cut interest rates further.
Japanese stocks ended at a nearly three-month closing low after a wave of late selling on a report that Mizuho Securities, the unlisted brokerage arm of Mizuho Financial Group, may post a subprime-related loss of over 100 billion yen and delay a merger. The report in the Nikkei business daily raised fears that more such losses may lie ahead and dragged financial stocks, such as Mizuho Financial, sharply lower. A strong yen also contributed to sales by hitting exporters. The Nikkei 225 Average ended 1.19 percent down.
Seoul stocks rose 0.6 percent, rallying from the previous day's steep falls, boosted by hanarotelecom after top mobile operator SK Telecom confirmed a potential bid for a stake in the broadband firm.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index finished higher, buoyed by gains in the mining sector following miner BHP Billiton's bid for rival Rio Tinto, while National Australia Bank gained on
upbeat earnings. Rio Tinto shares jumped as much as 21.8 percent following a long-awaited bid approach from BHP. However BHP fell on speculation it may have to lift its offer after Rio's rejection, capping overall market gains.
Hong Kong stocks erased earlier losses, closing flat as property shares resumed their climb, boosted by a rate cut by HSBC Holdings. Sinopec jumped nearly 7 percent after Goldman Sachs upped its stock rating and target price.
Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 2 percent lower. Shares of Jiutian Chemical fell as much as 8.5 percent, its lowest price in almost two months, with 5.7 million shares traded after the firm said its quarterly profit fell.
Chinese stocks recovered a little but closed nearly 0.3 percent lower, after a plunge of nearly 5 percent on Thursday. Analysts said low turnover and concern about official policy would prevent any major rebound.