- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 12 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange rose to their highest level in three weeks in moderate trading Wednesday, lifted by strength in the banking sector.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which rose 36.77 points Monday, jumped 179.24 points, or 2.1 percent, to 8,664.17 — its highest close since Jan. 24. The broader Topix Index, which rose 3.58 points during the previous session, rose 14.54 points, 1.7 percent, to 857.23.

Volume rose to an estimated 640.68 million shares from 406 million shares changing hands on Monday. Markets in Tokyo were closed Tuesday for a national holiday.

Advances hammered declines 1,231 to 198.

Analysts said stocks rose as Mizuho Holdings Inc. led strong gains in the banking sector on a report that Merrill Lynch & Co. was in final talks to acquire a portion of it's shares.

Mizuho surged 9.6 percent on the report. Other lenders also rose. UFJ Holdings surged 8.9 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group gained 2.7 percent.

Experts said a weakening of the Japanese yen and hopes for more aggressive monetary easing from the Bank of Japan also helped fuel the market's advance.

The U.S. dollar bought 120.90 yen on global currency markets compared to 121 yen late Tuesday in New York, where it rose to as high as 121.78 yen. The dollar has jumped about 2.7 percent in value against the yen in the past three weeks.

Japan's central bank will begin a two-day policy-setting meeting on Thursday, while the government is expected to announce at the end of February a successor to BOJ Governor Masaru Hayami, whose five-year term ends on March 19.

Among some of the other active issues, Sony Corp., which relies heavily on exports, gained 1.1 percent, Canon added 1.9 percent and Toshiba climbed 4.2 percent.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. rose 2.7 percent, computer maker Fujitsu Ltd. rose 5 percent, NTT DoCoMo Inc. gained 3.4 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices also ended higher on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which lost 37.23 points in the previous session, jumped 119.99 points, or 1.3 percent, to 9,314.90.

Analysts said the market was lifted in a technical rebound with solid buying of banks and property stocks.

In trading, Bank of East Asia, which disappointed the market on Tuesday with a 19 percent drop in 2002 earnings, rose 4.3 percent.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong's dominant carrier, climbed 3.1 percent, the territory's dominant fixed-line telecom operator PCCW Ltd. climbed 2.5 percent, global fashion retailer Esprit Holdings slipped 0.6 percent and van and car maker Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd., a Bermuda-registered company that derives its earnings from China, surged 10.4 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices ended higher in moderate trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange as North Korea's apparent willingness to diffuse tensions on the Korean peninsula cheered investors. The Korean Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which eased 1.27 points during the previous session, gained 7.31 points, or 1.3 percent, to 583.29.

In trading, Hyundai Motor, the country's largest automaker, gained 2.3 percent while memory chip giant Samsung Electronics rose 3.1 percent and Korea Electric Power added 0.8 percent.

Meanwhile, prices on the Taiwan Stock Exchange snapped a four-session losing streak and ended slightly higher as gains in petroleum-related companies outweighed losses in technology issues. The key Weighted Index, which lost 24.89 points during its previous session, added 5.89 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,624.87.

Benq, the island's largest cell-phone maker, rose 1 percent after announcing a 13 percent increase in its January sales from the year-ago level.

Elsewhere around the Pacific region, prices also ended higher on the Australian Stock Exchange in moderate trading. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which lost 10.20 points during the previous session, added 7.10 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,867.10.

Analysts said the market was lifted by some bargain hunting and as local investors bought major blue chips.

In trading, News Corp. jumped 3 percent.

Meanwhile, markets in Singapore were closed for a national holiday. Trading will resume on Thursday with the Straits Times Index hovering at 1,295.97 after rising 2.68 points on Tuesday.

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