- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 18 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange snapped their three-day winning streak Tuesday in busy trading, pressured by bouts of profit taking.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average lost 78.92 points, or 0.9 percent, to 8,692.97. The broader Topix index lost 5.00 points, or 0.6 percent, to 856.70.

Trading activity was brisk as an estimated one billion shares changed hands.

Despite the decline in the market indexes, advances outpaced declines, 739 to 606.

Analysts said stocks slipped on profit taking as local investors locked in gains from recent sessions.

A number of the market's heavyweight blue chips came under pressure amid concerns about selling by banks and insurers, which are rushing to square positions ahead of book-closings at the end of March to reduce their exposure to market swings.

A surge in the value of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar on global currency markets also weighed on exporters, whose profits and competitiveness are hurt by a firmer yen.

But players were also awaiting news on the selection of Japan's new top banker. Current Bank of Japan Governor Masaru Hayami is due to retire March 19, wrapping up a five-year term. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has indicated he will announce Hayami's successor soon.

In trading, Toyota, Japan's largest carmaker, lost 2.4 percent, consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. lost 1.1 percent and tire maker Bridgestone Corp. fell 2.7 percent.

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group sank 8.3 percent, extending a 7 percent decline on Monday, when Japan's second-largest bank announced plans to issue an extra $2.49 billion in convertible preferred shares.

Meanwhile, Mizuho Holdings Inc., the world's largest bank by assets, dropped 6.4 percent, Sega Corp. dropped 6.2 percent and Clarion Co. Ltd., a maker of car stereos and navigation equipment, jumped 9.2 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks ended slightly higher in light trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index added 13.37 points, or 0.1 percent, to 9,397.05.

Analysts said the market was supported by buying in select property and banking stocks.

In trading, Conglomerate Wheelock & Co. jumped 6 percent after it said it would sell its unprofitable retail operations to focus on its core infrastructure and property sectors. Wheelock's 48-percent owned property development firm Wharf Holdings added 1.5 percent.

Fashion retailer Esprit Holdings fell 3.4 percent, China's largest refiner Sinopec Corp. rose 2.2 percent, China's largest independent electricity generator Huaneng Power International added 2.2 percent and Standard Chartered Plc slipped 0.6 percent.

Prices ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange amid profit-taking and concerns about a possible war in Iraq. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange fell 99.77 points, or 2.1 percent, to 4,605.31.

In trading, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing lost 2.1 percent while United Microelectronics lost 2.4 percent.

Prices also ended lower on the Singapore Stock Exchange, dragged down by profit taking after the market's solid rally Monday. The Straits Times Index fell 7.38 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,293.81.

Prices ended slightly higher on the South Korean Stock Exchange, with North Korean threats to abandon the 1953 Armistice that ended the Korean War having little impact on the market. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, added 1.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 603.45.

KT Corp. rose 1.7 percent after Standard & Poor's Ratings Services raised its long-term foreign currency credit rating on KT to A minus from BBB plus, saying that the company's large free cash flow would help it improve its capital structure over the next few years.

SK Telecom fell 2.8 percent and SK Securities dropped 8.5 percent.

Elsewhere, prices ended little changed on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index eased 0.60 point to 2,828.90.

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