- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended lower in moderate trading for the fourth consecutive session Friday, as the Japanese yen's strength combined with selling by corporate pension funds to push blue-chips lower.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which lost 27.52 points during the previous session, fell 137.38 points, or 1.6 percent, to 8,513.54. The key Nikkei has fallen 258.35 points over the past four sessions.

The broader Topix index, which eased 4.24 points in the previous session, lost 9.24 poits, or 1.1 percent, to 840.11.

Volume declined to an estimated 750.80 million shares from 799.07 million shares changing hands on Thursday.

Declines outpaced advances 1,045 to 327, while another 125 issues settled unchanged.

Analysts said on the heels of weak economic reports out of the United States on Thursday and rising oil prices, broad-based selling drove the market lower on the day, as players squared positions ahead of the meeting of Group of Seven finance officials in Paris from Friday.

Stocks were also pressured as the Japanese yen's strength on global currency markets combined with continued selling by corporate pension funds to push stocks lower.

Major blue chips such as electronics companies fell amid growing pressure from Japanese corporate selling related to companies' plans to hand back to the government the portion of public pension funds they had been investing on the government's behalf.

Among some of the most active issues, Sony Corp. lost 2.1 percent, Shin-Etsu lost 3.2 percent and Canon slipped 0.9 percent.

In a busy banking sector, Mizuho Holdings rose 2.7 percent, Sumitomo Mitsui added 0.3 percent, Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group slipped 1.4 percent and UFJ eased 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Matsushita Electric Industrial dropped 2 percent after the company cut its net profit forecast for the fiscal year through March, even as the electronics maker raised its target for operating profit.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks ended lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which lost 37.15 points in the previous session, fell 139.62 points, or 1.5 percent, to 9250.86.

Analysts said prices fell in line with Thursday's decline on Wall Street.

Television Broadcasts sank 3.8 percent after being halted on Thursday. Hong Kong's dominant broadcaster on Thursday said it had sold a 51 percent stake in its Galaxy pay-TV project to U.S. satellite operator Intelsat for $69 million.

Galaxy, which TVB expects will take as long as 4 years to reach break-even, will be competing with i-Cable Communications. i-Cable plunged 9.3 percent on competition fears.

Prices also ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, pressured by uncertainties about Iraq and the global economy. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange, which eased 0.13 point in the previous session, slipped 2.35 points to 4,548.35.

The world's foundry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing rose 1.8 percent on news that Merrill Lynch had upgraded TSMC's ratings to buy from neutral. Rival United Microelectronics added 0.5 percent.

Prices also ended lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange, pressured by Thursday's performance on Wall Street. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which rose 4.68 points during the previous session, slipped 1.91 points, or 0.3 percent, to 603.60.

In trading, Kookmin Bank lost 1.6 percent and SK Telecom fell 2.6 percent.

Prices ended slightly higher in light pre-weekend trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which slipped 3.12 points during the previous session, added 2.62 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,315.03.

Elsewhere, prices ended slightly lower in moderate trading on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which dropped 43.40 points during the previous session, eased 2.10 points to 2,804.40.

Analysts said stocks were pressured following news that Telstra and PCCW will write down the value of their joint venture.

Telstra fell 3.9 percent after the company slashed $546 million off the value of its Reach undersea cable joint venture with Hong Kong's PCCW. The telecom carrier will also take a $1 billion charge in its 2002 earnings to reduce the value of its holding in Reach.

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