Asian Stocks End Mixed, Japan Flat
Asian stocks ended the week with a mixed session Friday, but off their earlier lows. Japan closed almost flat despite making sharp losses in the morning. South Korea finished just slightly lower.
Shares in exporters dropped, derailing a rally in Asian markets the previous day that saw Japanese stocks post their biggest daily gain in six years on optimism about the global economy.
The financial sector also slid after Moody's Investors Service on Thursday cut its top "AAA" rating on a unit of FGIC Corp by six notches, raising fears about selloffs in the debt guaranteed by the U.S. bond insurer. Bond insurers face billions of dollars in payouts after they guaranteed repackaged subprime mortgages and other risky debt.
Japan's Nikkei 225 Average ended almost flat, paring earlier losses as investors picked up shares of trading companies such as Mitsubishi and earth-moving equipment maker Komatsu.
Seoul stocks cut substantial early losses to end down just 0.2 percent, as buoyant shipbuilders such as Hyundai Heavy helped cushion the losses in financials hit by renewed credit market worries. Top lender Kookmin Bank fell 1.85 percent, but Hyundai Heavy Industries rose 2.19 percent.
Australian shares fell 1.4 percent as escalating worries about global credit markets hit financial firms such as Macquarie Group and the major banks. Still, the S&P/ASX 200 Index ended off early lows as some commodity firms such as Woodside Petroleum and Aquarius Platinum benefited from strong oil and platinum prices. Shares in oil producer AED Oil surged 45.3 percent, adding to a 40.8 percent jump in the previous session. The company said in a statement to the stock exchange that it was unaware of any reason that could explain the movement in its share price.
Hong Kong stocks closed 0.5 percent higher, marking a fourth straight day of gains. Fresh woes in the credit market weighed on global lender HSBC Holdings, but oversold conditions in sectors like shipping and paper led to bargain hunting. Many shipping stocks made further gains, bolstered by a recovery in the Baltic Dry Index, an indicator for commodity-freight rates. China COSCO looked set for a fourth-straight gaining session.
Singapore's Straits Times Index ended 1.4 percent higher with DBS Group shares up 3.5 percent despite the firm posting a 18 percent drop in fourth-quarter net profit.
China's Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.2 percent after U.S. central bank chief Ben Bernanke said the U.S. economic outlook had worsened, and after a surprise jump in China's January lending and money supply fueled concern about domestic monetary policy. Data released on Thursday showed China's new bank loans and M2 money supply grew much faster than expected in January. The jump was largely due to special factors -- after a harsh clampdown on new lending in December, banks received fresh loan quotas in January.