Asian Shares End Lower, Rattled by Bhutto

Most Asian markets closed lower Friday as investors were rattled by the assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, and U.S. data pointed to continuing economic weakness in that country, a major consumer of Asia-made goods.

Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto

The Pakistan stock market will remain closed for the next three days as the nation observes a period of mourning following the assassination, media reports said.

The benchmark Karachi Stock Exchange 100 Index has gained 47 percent year to date.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, the Nikkei average closed 1.65 percent lower in a shortened final session for 2007, as Bhutto's assassination sparked concerns about geopolitical risk and exporters such as Canon were hurt by a firmer yen.

The index was down 11.1 percent for the year, the first annual decline in five years and on track to be the world's worst-performing major stock market in 2007.

The broader TOPIX ended the day down 1.6 percent or 24.26 points at 1,475.68, booking a decline of 12.2 percent for the year.

Hong Kong stocks also fell, tracking losses on Wall Street, with China Mobile leading the losses on speculation that an industry reshuffle may start next year.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 1.7 percent at 27,363.

The China Enterprises index of H shares, or Hong Kong-listed shares in mainland companies, was down 2.3 percent at 15,976.

On the Chinese mainland, shares were mixed in early trade, as dealers said the Bhutto assassination threatens to destabilize West Asia.

The Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.9 percent at 5,261.

Airlines were active after the central bank set the yuan's daily reference rate at record 7.3046 to the dollar. A stronger currency is seen helping reduce the value of their foreign debt.

China Eastern Airlines surged 6.7 percent to 21.29 yuan, and China Southern Airlines added 2.4 percent yuan to end at 27.94 yuan.

Seoul stocks fell, hurt by fears of global unrest. Also, weak U.S. durable goods orders data revived concerns over South Korea's No. 2 export market. The Kospi index declined 0.6 percent to 1,897.

Taiwan stocks were the main winners in the region, as the main TAIEX index reversed its morning decline to close 1 percent higher, touching near two-and-a half week intraday highs on Friday.

Investors bought tech shares such as HTC ahead of a verdict in the corruption trial of
main opposition presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou.

Australian shares fell 0.2 percent, after a three-day rally, with investors rattled by turmoil after Bhutto was killed, concerns about U.S. growth and potential bad debt write-offs at U.S. banks.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index fell 11 points to 6,351 in thin trading.

Rising oil, gold and copper prices did little to stem the Australian market's declines, with top miner BHP Billiton up 0.2 percent and its prey, Rio Tinto, down 0.2 percent in London trading.

In Singapore, the Straits Times index fell 0.9 percent.

-- Wire services contributed to this report.