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Asian Markets Wobble on Uncertainty, Tokyo Loses 1.5%

CNBC.com
Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 | 10:49 AM ET

Asian stocks wobbled Tuesday with markets weaving in and out of negative territory as some investors bet the most painful stretch of corporate earnings damage may be over and bought technology shares.

As the first quarter and Japan's financial year draws to a close, stocks, oil prices and higher-yielding currencies gained after a one-day battering on news that the U.S. government was considering pushing General Motors into bankruptcy.

The dollar edged up against the yen but lost ground against most major currencies , surrendering some of its safe-haven gains from the previous day. Crude oil prices fell more than 7 percent, trading above $49 a barrel, on the dollar gains and weaker stock markets.

The economic fallout from the financial crisis is still taking a big toll on many economies, with data from Japan showing unemployment rising to a three-year highas the country's grapples with its worst recession since World War Two.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average fell 1.5 percent, the final day of the financial year, with banks and insurers down on renewed worry about the health of the global financial system in the wake of European bank rescues.

Seoul shares ended 0.7 percent higher, recouping some of the previous session's losses, with Hyundai Motor gaining on heavy program-related buying for end-quarter window dressing.

Australian shares closed down 0.6 percent on the final day of the quarter. But stocks posted their biggest monthly gain in almost nine years in March amid tentative signs of stabilization in the global financial sector. The Australian market briefly moved into positive territory after a $930 million takeover bid for Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group sent its
shares and those of its parent Macquarie Group soaring. Macquarie Communications ended up 53 percent after the A$2.50 per share bid from a Canadian pension fund. Macquarie Group rose 8 percent.

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Hong Kong shares edged up 0.9 percent supported by firmer regional sentiment, suggesting an easing of pressure after the bourse posted its biggest single-day drop in three weeks in the previous session. However, global lender HSBC remained under pressure as investors unloaded their holdings on the last trading day of its nil-paid rights. HSBC fell and its nil-paid rights also fell.

Singapore's Straits Times Index rose 1.6 percent. But Neptune Orient Lines, the world's seventh-largest container shipper, dropped after it said it carried 21 percent fewer containers in the four weeks to March 6 versus a year ago.

China's Shanghai Composite Index fell on worries that the market's recent strength might prompt regulators to permit the resumption of big initial public offers of equity, which could hurt the supply/demand balance for shares.