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Asian Markets End Mixed on Credit Uncertainty

Asian stocks ended mixed Friday as investors were uncertain about whether the worst was indeed over for credit markets. Japan shed 1.5 percent but Australia managed to hang on to gains closing 1.4 percent higher.

Standard & Poor's on Thursday said write-downs for large financial institutions were probably past the halfway mark and that banks had already disclosed the majority of their writedowns. However, it raised its previous estimate of write-downs by $20 billion to $285 billion. U.S. stocks rebounded following the Standard & Poor's report.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average dropped 1.5 percent to close at a more than two-and-a-half-year low as the dollar fell back below 100 yen, dragging exporters such as Toyota Motor with it. Sumitomo Realty & Development and other property firms extended losses after a research firm said that sales of new apartments in Tokyo fell to a 15-year low for February.

Investors study shares prices during the morning trading at RHB private stock market gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Friday, Feb.3, 2006. Malaysia's key stock index rose Friday to a 15-week high as foreign funds plowed into key bluechips after a long holiday. The Composite Index of 100 blue chip stocks ended at 927.85 points, up 13.84 points or 1.5 percent from last Friday's close. (AP Photo) **MALAYSIA OUT**
AP
Investors study shares prices during the morning trading at RHB private stock market gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Friday, Feb.3, 2006. Malaysia's key stock index rose Friday to a 15-week high as foreign funds plowed into key bluechips after a long holiday. The Composite Index of 100 blue chip stocks ended at 927.85 points, up 13.84 points or 1.5 percent from last Friday's close. (AP Photo) **MALAYSIA OUT**

South Korea's KOSPI finished down 0.95 percent, erasing initial gains, as a weaker won and surging oil prices raised worries about higher import prices of raw materials, driving POSCO,Hyundai Steel and other steelmakers lower.

The Australian market was the only one to hang on to gains, closing 1.4 percent higher as financial shares recovered on easing credit concerns. Resource firms also rose on record peaks for oil and gold prices, while Midwest surged 30 percent on a takeover bid from China's Sinosteel.

Hong Kong stocks erased early gains and closed 0.3 percent lower as Sinopec tumbled further due to fears that the oil refiner may face losses from a double blow of record crude prices and caps on prices of some refined products. China plays are now at near-two-month lows. Newcomer China Railway Construction slid in its second day of trade after a disappointing debut.

Singapore's Straits Times Index wove in and out of positive territory, but closed 1.2 percent higher, with financials such as DBS Group in focus.

Chinese stocks continued falling and closed 0.2 percent lower in very thin trade as rising inflation and slowing growth in some areas caused investors to worry about the possibility of a "hard landing" for the economy. Sinopec also slumped almost 4 percent in Shanghai, though it denied a newspaper report which said it would probably make a loss in the first half of this year because of soaring crude oil prices.