- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 6 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended lower in fairly active trading Thursday as investors remained cautious about global economic prospects amid uncertainty over a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which rose 64.95 points Wednesday, lost 65.66 points, or 0.8 percent, to 8,484.19. The broader Topix Index, which gained 1.03 points during the previous session, fell 5.34 points, or 0.6 percent, to 839.95.

Declines outpaced advances, 766 to 591, while another 132 issues settled unchanged.

Volume slipped to an estimated 921.48 million shares from 937.47 million shares changing hands Wednesday, which was the highest level since Jan. 24.

Analysts said stocks slipped on continued seasonal selling by institutional and corporate investors. Market players also remained cautious about global economic prospects due to uncertainty over a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Toyota Motors and several other blue chips suffered from concerns about future earnings in the U.S. and from continued unwinding of mutually-held shares by institutional and corporate investors, traders said.

Toyota lost its early gains and settled unchanged, Honda slipped 0.5 percent, Sony Corp. lost 0.6 percent and Toshiba fell 1.4 percent.

Tokyo Electron fell 2.8 percent despite the chip-production equipment maker reporting a smaller on-year group net loss for the April-December period and maintaining earnings estimates for the full fiscal year.

Despite their failure to react to positive news, investors were sensitive to negative developments. TDK dropped 3.3 percent after the company cut its fiscal year profit outlook.

Meanwhile, NTT DoCoMo fell 1.3 percent and Japan Telecom Holdings dropped 4.7 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices ended at their lowest level in four months in light trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which lost 72.24 points in the previous session, fell another 54.32 points, or 0.6 percent, to 9,126.15 — its lowest close since Oct. 11, 2002.

Analysts said stocks fell on persistent worries about a possible war in Iraq, but selling was light as the prospect of a conflict had already chopped four percent off the market in two weeks.

The territory's largest fixed-line telecom operator PCCW settled unchanged after denying a British media report that it made a bid last month for U.K. telecom carrier Cable & Wireless Plc.

Meanwhile, among some of the other active issues, utility Hongkong Electric added 0.5 percent, Hong Kong's dominant broadcaster Television Broadcasts Ltd. fell 3 percent, PetroChina added 1.8 percent, China Southern Airlines sank 7.6 percent and China Eastern Airlines fell 5.4.

Prices also ended lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korean Composite Stock Price Index, or Kopsi, which eased 3.10 points during the previous session, lost 11.18 points, or 1.9 percent, to 589.50.

Analysts said the market came under pressure from rising fears over North Korea's nuclear program.

North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said that North Korea was putting the operation of its nuclear facilities for the production of electricity on a normal footing after their restart. Pyongyang has not formally declared that it has reactivated its nuclear facilities.

In trading, SK Telecom dropped 6.1 percent. Selling was sparked after its chief executive officer reportedly said that the firm had no plans to change its controversial $2.1 billion spending program for 2003.

LG Electronics dropped 4.1 percent after the country's second-largest electronics maker reported a net loss in the fourth quarter due to losses at its display-making unit.

Prices also ended lower on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which slipped 4.70 points during the previous session, eased another 4.26 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,287.63.

In trading, Singapore Telecommunications lost 1.5 percent. The company is scheduled to release its third quarter earnings on Friday.

Meanwhile, prices on the Taiwan Stock Exchange ended sharply lower in busy post-holiday trading. The market had been closed since last Tuesday for the long Chinese New Year holidays. The key Weighted Index, which rose 42.57 points in last Tuesday's session, sank 181.58 points, or 3.6 percent, to 4,833.58.

The market was led lower by a 6.9 percent decline in foundry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and 7 percent decline in United Microelectronics.

Elsewhere around the Pacific region, prices ended lower on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which lost 27.80 points during the previous session, fell another 30.10 points, or 1 percent, to 2,868.20.

Analysts said the market fell amid uncertainty about Iraq and growing fears about a stand-off with North Korea.

In trading, life insurer and fund manager AMP fell 3.6 percent, National Australia Bank, the country's biggest bank, fell 2.6 percent, ANZ fell 3 percent, Westpac fell 2.9 percent and CBA lost 0.7 percent.

Newcrest Mining fell 1.1 percent and Lihir fell 4.5 percent.

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