- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 5 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended higher in fairly active trading Wednesday, lifted by growing hopes for new monetary steps to ignite Japan's economy.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which slipped 15.89 points Tuesday, rose 64.95 points, or 0.8 percent, to 8,549.85. The broader Topix Index, which gained 6.56 points during the previous session, added 1.03 points, or 0.1 percent, to 845.29.

Volume amounted to a busy 937.47 million shares, its highest level since Jan. 24.

Advances outpaced declines 827 to 549, while another 119 stocks settled unchanged.

Analysts noted local investors were cautious over buying or selling stocks ahead of the speech to the U.N. Security Council by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is expected to make the case for a war against Iraq.

Experts said stocks pushed higher, drawing support from short-covering as growing hopes for new monetary steps to reflate the economy overcame fears of an immediate financial crisis.

Hopes that the next Bank of Japan governor will take an aggressive stance on monetary policy have been underpinning the market recently. Current Gov. Masaru Hayami will step down in March when his term expires.

Also supporting the market, analysts said, was an encouraging earnings report from Sharp Corp., analysts said.

Traders also said some index-linked buying from pension funds to rebalance portfolios supported the market.

In trading, Sharp, Japan's largest maker of liquid crystal displays, rose 2.2 percent after it posted a 94 percent rise in its third quarter group operating profit on brisk demand for camera-equipped mobile phones and flat-panel televisions.

Toyota Motor Corp. eased 0.4 percent before Japan's biggest automaker said after the market close that it booked a strong quarterly profit, putting itself on track to post record earnings for the full year.

Chip-gear maker Tokyo Electron Ltd. rose 2.5 percent after reporting its net loss narrowed in the latest quarter amid signs the industry is at last poised to rebound from a record downturn.

Japan Telecom Holdings Co. Ltd. jumped 5.8 percent on reports that Britain's Vodafone Group Plc is in talks to sell its fixed-line operations to U.S. fund Ripplewood Holdings LLC.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices ended lower in cautious trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which eased 6.24 points Tuesday, lost 72.24 points, or 0.8 percent, to 9,180.47.

Analysts said stocks fell as investors trimmed positions, fearing a the U.S. report to the United Nations will unsettle financial markets if it unveils evidence that could lead to an attack on Iraq.

In trading, Jiangxi Copper, China's second-largest copper producer, surged 12.1 percent, supported by a recent rise in copper prices.

Zhejiang Expressway jumped 7.6 percent supported by a booming auto sector in China.

Meanwhile, global bank HSBC Holdings, Hong Kong's biggest stock by market capitalization, slipped 0.6 percent and China's biggest offshore oil producer CNOOC, added 3.9 percent.

Prices ended slightly lower in light trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korean Composite Stock Price Index, or Kopsi, which added 3.37 points during the previous session, slipped 3.10 points, or 0.5 percent, to 600.68, pressured by war concerns and weakness in blue-chip issues.

In trading, KT Corp. lost 2.7 percent on news that LG Investment & Securities reduced his six-month target price on KT by 7.5 percent, a day after the company announced fourth-quarter results. Meanwhile, SK Telecom lost 1.1 percent.

Prices also ended slightly lower in light trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which rose 4.98 points during the previous session, slipped 4.70 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,291.89, pressured by war jitters.

Meanwhile, markets in Taiwan remained closed for the long Chinese New Year holidays and will reopen on Feb. 6 after the Weighted Index rose 42.57 points to 5,015.16 during last Tuesday's session.

Elsewhere around the Pacific region, prices ended lower on the Australian Stock Exchange in cautious trading. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which added 5.60 points during the previous session, sank 27.80 points, or 1 percent, to 2,898.30 as many investors opted for the sidelined amid worries the U.S. will soon lead an attack against Iraq.

Analysts noted a Reserve Bank's decision to leave interest rates unchanged was expected and had no impact on the market.

In trading, News Corp. dropped 3.5 percent on concerns about its exposure to the U.S. market amid talk of war with Iraq.

Lihir Gold rose 3.3 percent as geopolitical fears, including North Korea and Iraq issues, further lifted bullion prices.

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