- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 13 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended lower in active trading Thursday for the first time in three sessions, pressured by weakness in export issues.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which jumped 179.24 points Wednesday, slipped 64.51 points, or 0.7 percent, to 8,599.66. The broader Topix Index, which rose 14.54 points during the previous session, fell 4.22 points, or 0.5 percent, to 853.01.

Declines outpaced advances, 879 to 476, while another 142 issues settled unchanged.

Volume declined to an estimated 949.37 million shares from 1.05 billion shares changing hands on Wednesday.

Analysts said stocks ended lower as Wednesday's declines on Wall Street damped optimism and pressured exporters such as Sony and Toyota.

After rising early on technical gains related to Friday's settlement of February options contracts, the Nikkei slipped on quick profit-taking and continued corporate selling of mutual-held shares ahead of the March end of Japan's fiscal year, traders said.

Cyclicals, such as paper and pulp stocks, led declines, while major exporters such as technology and auto stocks slumped despite continued softness in the yen against the U.S. dollar.

In trading, among some of the active issues, Sony Corp. fell 1.7 percent and Toyota Motor slipped 0.8 percent,

Bank stocks rose on short-covering by speculators, prompted partly by talk that the Bank of Japan may contribute more funds to helping minimize the impact on the market from debt-laden banks' unloading of mutually-held shares, traders said.

Mizuho Holdings rose 2.9 percent, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking rose 3.9 percent and UFJ Holdings jumped 4.4 percent.

Among some of the other active issues, Millea Holdings lost 2.5 percent and Nisshin Fire & Marine Insurance jumped 6.4 percent. Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance, a major non-life insurer and a core division of Millea Holdings, said it plans to hike its stake in mid-sized non-life insurer Nisshin.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices ended sharply lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange with investors spooked by mounting global tensions. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which gained 119.99 points in the previous session, dropped 141.47 points, or 1.5 percent, to 9,173.43.

In trading, China's biggest freight courier, Sinotrans Ltd. rose 2.7 percent in its market debut as investors sought out companies with strong growth potential.

Esprit gained 4.3 percent helped by earnings and price target upgrades by several brokerages.

Exporters Li & Fung lost 3.8 percent, Johnson Electric fell 3.9 percent and Hong Kong's main airline, Cathay Pacific Airways, fell 3.8 percent as the price of crude oil, which determines jet fuel prices, hit a fresh 28-month high.

Elsewhere, prices also ended lower in moderate trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korean Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which rose 7.31 points during the previous session, gave back 7.62 points, or 1.3 percent, to 575.67.

Analysts said market sentiment was hit after the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to refer the North Korean nuclear issue to the U.N. Security council, raising concerns over a further escalation in regional tension.

The resolution could further push North Korea into the corner and escalate its brinkmanship diplomacy as Pyongyang is sticking to its demand for direct dialogue with the U.S. on the nuclear impasse.

Moody's Investors Service earlier this week cut the long-term ratings of South Korea to "negative" from "positive" citing mounting concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear threat.

In trading, Samsung Electronics lost 3 percent while Hyundai Motor fell 2.8 percent.

Meanwhile, prices also ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Index, which added 5.89 points during its previous session, dropped 116.91 points, or 2.5 percent, to 4,507.96 — its lowest level in 6 weeks.

Analysts said stocks fell as local investors showed little enthusiasm to news that the government will form a stock market contingency taskforce and adopt other measures if necessary in the event of a war in the Middle East.

In trading, Cosmos Bank sank 6.8 percent, Financial Holdings dropped 4.9 percent and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing slipped 0.5 percent.

Prices ended also lower in fairly busy post holiday trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The key Straits Times Index, which rose 2.68 points on Tuesday, fell 27.64 points, or 2.1 percent, to 1,268.33. Markets in Singapore were closed Wednesday for a national holiday.

Chartered Semiconductor, the world's third largest contract chipmaker, fell 2.9 percent after the company said it will shut down one of its chip plants and cut 14 percent of total workforces in a bid to cut costs.

Singapore Telecommunications lost 1.5 percent.

Elsewhere around the Pacific region, prices also ended lower on the Australian Stock Exchange in moderate trading. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which rose 7.10 points during the previous session, sank 46.60 points, 1.6 points, to 2,820.50 — its lowest level since November 1999.

Analysts said stocks dropped amid uncertainty created by heightened fears about terrorism and a war with Iraq.

In trading, media giant News Corp. dropped 4.2 percent as investors brushed aside the company's upbeat earnings results and questioned its strategic plans.

Telstra lost 0.7 percent, and soft drinks distributor and marketer Coca-Cola Amatil rose 0.5 percent.

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