Asia-Pacific Markets

Asian Markets Are Shaky, Hit by US Consumer Concerns

Asian stocks were shaky in uneven trading Thursday with markets weaving in and out of negative territory on fears about how far U.S. consumers will cut spending, while the euro steadied and sterling dipped ahead of meetings by their respective central banks.

Glum profit forecasts on Wednesday from U.S. food makers and warehouse club Costco added to the uncertainty about reduced consumer spending in a key market for Asian exporters.

The euro held steady from late U.S. trading, after falling more than 1.4 percent on Wednesday. Those declines had been sparked after Fitch became the second credit ratings agency within two months to downgrade Russia's ratings. The dollar eased slightly against the yen. Crude oil futures are trading at the $40 a barrel level on a larger-than-expected rise in U.S. oil inventories.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average fell 1.1 percent as Canon and other technology shares slipped on worries about the U.S. economy, but losses were limited as hopes for Chinese economic steps buoyed shippers and steel.  Panasonic shares gained after the world's No.1 plasma TV maker warned it would post an annual loss of $4.2 billionand said it would cut 15,000 jobs and close plants as it battles a slump in demand and a stronger yen.

South Korea's KOSPI closed 1.4 percent lower with banks including Korea Exchange Bank falling on continued worries about their financial health, but defensive issues and shipping companies outperformed.

Australian shares nudged lower as selling to fund a rush of cheap equity raisings offset strong gains in miners including Rio Tinto. Shares in Qantas Airways fell 18 percent to a 12-year low after it completed a A$500 million institutional placement, for  which some analysts have questioned the need, and after posting Wednesday a 66% drop in first half earnings. 

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Hong Kong shares rose 0.9 percent on hopes for fresh support measures from China after data showed earlier steps had yielded results. Bank shares extended gains after data showed strong growth in lending for January. Top Lender ICBC rose 3.9 percent while Bank of
added 4.4 percent. Insurers also joined in the rally with China Life gaining 3.9 percent while smaller rival Ping An Insurance outperformed with a 7 percent jump.

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 0.2 percent lower in sluggish trading amid a lack of catalysts and ongoing macroeconomic concerns.

China's Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.5 percent after a late-session slump. Economic data for January -- principally a rise in China's purchasing managers' index (PMI), and strong growth in bank lending -- have drawn money back into the market this week. Petrochemical shares continued rising sharply, with Shanghai Petrochemical up nearly 5 percent at one point, after official media reported this week that the government was considering fresh steps to aid the sector. China COSCO gained after the Baltic Exchange dry index, an indicator of shipping freight rates, soared nearly 15 percent on Wednesday amid signs of recovering demand for raw materials in China.