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Asian Markets Trade Mixed, Nikkei Ends Down 1%

Asian stocks traded mixed on Thursday as investors continued to grapple with the unrest in Libya and its effects on the oil markets.

Japanese stocks weakened for a third straight day. Besides the spike in oil prices, capital raising announcements also weighed on sentiment.

The benchmark Nikkei extended losses to close down 1.2 percent. The broader Topix fell a sharper 1.3 percent.

The market mood was also soured by the yen's rise to a two-week high against the dollar, hurting exporters, and by capital raising announcements by Tobu Railway and Toyobo, with their shares tumbling on dilution fears.

Tobu Railway, a Japanese rail operator and property developer, tumbled 13 percent after it said it would raise as much as 93.2 billion yen ($1.13 billion) in a share offering to buy back convertible bonds maturing in 2014.

Seoul shares dipped after volatile trade on Thursday, weighed by falls in crude oil refiners and technology plays including Hynix but a bounce in shipyards gave the market support.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended down 0.6 percent at 1,949.88 points.

But shares in SK Telecom rose 3.2 percent after a local media report the country's top mobile carrier planned to roll out Apple's iPhone 4, currently offered exclusively by smaller rival KT.

Samsung Electronics launched an ultra-slim notebook on Thursday, seeking to bolster its
presence in the high-end mobile computer segment dominated by Apple. Samsung shares ended the session 0.1 percent lower.

Libya also weighed on the sentiment in Australian stocks. The S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.8 percent on to a 3-week low. fifth straight losing session for the index. Costs associated with a devastating earthquake in New Zealand and downbeat profit guidance from Origin Energy and Fairfax Media also hurt sentiment.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index ell 0.1 percent to 3,368.4.

Origin slumped 3.5 percent to its lowest in around 3 months after it trimmed its earnings guidance, while Fairfax shed 5.3 percent, touching a 7-month low, after it said second-half
sales may fall.

BHP Billiton fell 1.3 percent while Rio Tinto slipped 0.8 percent as the uprising in Libya fanned fears of inflation and a stalled economic recovery, which could lower demand for Australian mineral exports.

Rio Tinto has extended its $3.9 billion takeover offer for Africa-focused coal miner Riversdale Mining to March 18, after Riversdale's top shareholder said it had yet to decide
whether to hold or sell its stake

Airline stocks were also lower. Qantas and Virgin Blue saw losses steepen throughout the session. Both stocks closed over 3 percent lower..

In China, the Shanghai Composite gained 0.6 percent while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.5 percent.

Chinese corporate pension funds will be allowed to invest up to 30 percent of their total investment in stocks, up from 20 percent allowed now, the government said.

The raising of the ceiling will likely see more than 100 billion yuan ($15.21 billion) of money flow into stocks this year and help boost liquidity in the market, the official Shanghai Securities News reported on Thursday.

The funds' fixed-income investment limit will also be raised to 95 percent, from 50 percent currently, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said.

The changes will be effective May 1.

Taiwan stocks ended up 0.15 percent on Thursday, with gains by TPK Holding, Wintek Corp and other suppliers of Apple ahead of an Apple media event next week. The Taiex closed 0.2 percent higher.

Southeast Asian markets were lower.

The Straits Times Index (STI) declined 0.4 percent.

Commodities firm Olam International and Sembcorp Marine,the world's second largest oil rig builder, outperformed the broader Singapore stock market on Thursday as investors hunted
for bargains following a recent sharp sell-off. Olam shares gained nearly 5 percent.

The FTSE CNBC 100 Index was down 0.4 percent.