- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 20 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended lower for the third consecutive session in moderate trading Thursday, pressured by weakness in the banking sector.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which lost 14.53 points during the previous session, slipped another 27.52 points, or 0.3 percent, to 8,650.92. The broader Topix index, which eased 3.11 points in the previous session, lost 4.24 points, or 0.5 percent, to 849.35.

Volume declined to an estimated 799.07 million shares from the 930.96 million shares changing hands on Wednesday.

Declines outgunned advances 827 to 529.

Experts said stocks closed lower for a third straight session on weakness in the banking sector and as some exporters were hit by the firmer Japanese yen.

Analysts noted the market drew little support from a published report that the government may delay by up to two years the implementation of a law that will force banks to cut back on their shareholdings.

The offloading of shares by banks, due to a rule that they will have to limit stockholdings to an amount below their core capital from September 2004, has been a big factor weighing on the market, especially hitting widely held shares.

In trading, among some of the active banking issues, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., Japan's second-largest bank, sank 5.7 percent, UFJ Holdings Inc. plunged 7.8 percent, Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group Inc. dropped 5.7 percent and Mizuho Holdings Inc. plummeted 10.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Sony Corp., the world's largest consumer electronics maker, fell 0.6 percent, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. added 0.7 percent, camera and office equipment maker Canon Inc. rose 1.4 percent and Kao Corp., Japan's largest maker of household products, rose 1.2 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks ended slightly lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, pressured by weakness in the property sector. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which added 30.58 points in the previous session, lost 37.15 points, or 0.4 percent, to 9,390.48.

Analysts said stocks eased as losses in the property sector offset gains in banking stocks, but renewed war worries kept most investors at bay.

In a busy banking sector, Standard Chartered jumped 6.1 percent after posting a 16 percent rise in annual profits. Global bank HSBC Holdings rose 0.6 percent, Hang Seng Bank added 0.9 percent, Bank of East Asia lost 1.7 percent and Bank of China Hong Kong ended unchanged.

Meanwhile, Hang Lung Properties slipped 0.6 percent, Hang Lung Group, which reported a 1.7 percent drop in its first-half net profit, lost 0.7 percent, property firm Wharf Holdings sank 3.6 percent, I-Cable Communications dropped 4.9 percent and Hong Kong's main carrier Cathay Pacific fell 4.2 percent.

Prices ended little changed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange, which dropped 54.48 points in the previous session, eased 0.13 point to 4,550.70.

Prices ended slightly lower on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which rose 21.72 points during the previous session, slipped 3.12 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,312.41.

Prices ended higher in moderate trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange, despite news of a North Korean fighter jet briefly entering South Korean airspace. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which slipped 2.62 points during the previous session, gained 4.68 points, or 0.8 percent, to 605.51.

Korea Electric Power jumped 2.5 percent after the state-run power monopoly reported a 72 percent increase in its 2002 net profit.

Posco, the world's second biggest steel mill, dropped 4.4 percent on concerns over the fate of the company's chairman. Industrial Bank of Korea, a state-run bank with a 2.34 percent stake in Posco, is opposing the reappointment of Chairman and Chief Executive Yoo Sang-boo, citing his alleged involvement in political and business scandals, according to local reports.

Elsewhere, prices ended lower on the Australian Stock Exchange, pressured by Wednesday's decline on Wall Street. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which rose 21.00 points during the previous session, fell 43.40 points, or 1.5 percent, to 2,806.50.

Qantas Airways, Australia's dominant airline, sank 11.6 percent despite news of a 130 percent increase in profits in the first half of the year. The carrier, citing a possible drop in demand if there's a war with Iraq, said it will cut jobs and trim its schedule.

Amcor sank 4.7 percent after reporting a 35 percent increase in its first half-year profits.

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