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Asian Markets Fall, But Weak Yen Lifts Japan

CNBC.com
Monday, 18 Aug 2008 | 5:08 AM ET

Asian markets were mostly softer Monday, with Chinese stocks sliding over 5 percent. But the weaker yen helped Japan close over 1 percent higher, with exporters supporting that market.

China's Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 5.3 percent, pulled down by coal producers after a hike in the coal export tax, and by a drain of funds into China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp as the firm listed.

Falling stocks in Shanghai outnumbered gainers by 904 to 31, with over 200 Shanghai A shares plunging their 10 percent daily limits.

"There is no confidence at all, and no money entering the market to clean up this mess, so no one can call a floor now," said Zhang Qi, analyst at Haitong Securities.

Fears about a protracted global slowdown have caused oil prices to reflect a much lower so-called demand premium, as top consumers like China ratchet down energy imports, though on Monday U.S. light crude pricesclimbed almost $1 to $114.72 a barrel on threats to supply in the Gulf of Mexico from a tropical storm.

The U.S. dollar slipped, easing from a six-month high against the euro as gold and oil prices rose, but slowing commodities demand was widely seen supporting the currency in the medium term. In the last several weeks, reports have confirmed the euro zone and Japanese economies are shrinking, causing dealers to erase expectations for interest rate increases and for emerging markets investors to prepare for a potential
backlash.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average finished 1.1 percent higher, led by exporters as a softer yen and recent fall in oil prices eased worries about corporate earnings amid a deteriorating outlook for the global economy. Sumitomo Metal Industries jumped over 7 percent after Mitsubishi UFJ Securities lifted its rating, saying the steelmaker was expected to be able to raise prices of its seamless pipes used in the oil industry.

Seoul shares closed lower after a rebound in oil prices sent airlines and exporters lower, but Doosan Group units rallied after the group said it would not bid for Daewoo Shipbuilding.

Australian shares closed just a touch higher as resources stocks advanced, with miner BHP Billiton gaining ahead of reporting a record annual profit.

Hong Kong shares fell 1.1 percent, with the Hang Seng Index hitting a new 5-month low, as China coal stocks slid after a hike in export taxes on the commodity and mobile phone maker Foxconn International plunged 24.1 percent after a profit warning. Foxconn's warning highlighted fears that firms in Greater China will almost certainly be hit by cooling global demand, sharply curbing once-heady earnings growth.

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 0.7 percent lower with a mixed performance by blue chips.

-- Reuters contributed to this report