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Asian Markets Lower, But China Jumps 4.8%

CNBC.com
Wednesday, 30 Apr 2008 | 5:51 AM ET

Most Asian markets closed lower Wednesday ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve rate decision later in the session. Japan finished slightly lower, but Shanghai was the stand out performer, up almost 5 percent.

Investors were braced for a U.S. interest rate decision but kept an eye out for stocks with robust earnings prospects, such as Japanese flat-panel TV maker Matsushita, which rose as much as 11 percent.

The Fed, which is widely expected announce another rate cut later, could also signal that its cutting cycle is done for now. That could trouble firms counting on an even cheaper cost of debt but it could also draw a line under the financial crisis, since the Fed's rush to slash rates has reflected widespread panic about the fragile health of the U.S. economy.

The Nikkei 225 Average shed 0.3 percent in see-saw trade before a U.S. interest rate decision, with investors selling off shares with disappointing earning outlooks such as Fujifilm Holdings.

But Honda Motor, Sony and other exporters edged lower, dragged down as the yen crept up against the dollar and the market turned its eyes to a Federal Reserve Board meeting.

Seoul shares closed near a four-month high, as investors awaited a U.S. interest rate review and after U.S. consumer confidence fell to a five-year low, fanning concern about South Korea's No.2 export market.

Australian shares closed 0.2 percent lower, with resource firms such as BHP Billiton leading declines following a fall in oil and metals prices. But the market came off early lows after Origin Energy jumped nearly 40 percent to an all-time high of A$14.60 and logging the biggest one-day gain on record, following a takeover approach from the UK's BG Group.

China's Shanghai Composite Index jumped 4.8 percent, led by blue chips and especially financial shares after Ping An Insurance posted strong results for the first quarter.

Ping An reported a 23.6 percent rise in first-quarter profit on premium growth, despite a slowdown in investment income. PetroChina, the market's largest stock, shot almost 6 percent higher. Several other blue-chip firms' earnings in the first quarter slightly exceeded expectations.

Hong Kong stocks eased by 0.6 percent as investors booked profits a day after the index hit a three-month closing high and ahead of the May 1 Labor Day holiday and a U.S. interest rate meeting.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was flat with banks such as OCBC edging higher. But China Flexible Packaging Holdings plunged nearly 13 percent after the packaging materials maker warned investors that second-quarter profit would fall.