- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 25 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended sharply lower in moderate trading Tuesday, knocked down by a North Korean missile launch and continued Iraqi war fears.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which rose 51.41 points during the previous session, sank 204.46 points, or 2.4 percent, to 8,360.49 — its lowest close since Jan. 31 and just above its 19-year closing low of 8,303.39 set on Nov. 14.

The broader Topix index, which lost 1.15 points in the previous session, dropped 19.78 points, or 2.4 percent, to 819.18.

Volume rose to an estimated 754.94 million shares from 609.07 million shares changing hands Monday.

Declines hammered advances 1,322 to 112, while another 60 issues settled unchanged.

Analysts said stocks fell sharply as geopolitical concerns sparked by a North Korean missile launch and continued fears over a war with Iraq combined with a stronger Japanese yen to send blue chips tumbling.

The session also marked investors first chance to respond to news that the government had picked Toshihiko Fukui, a conservative central banker, to be the next Bank of Japan governor — dashing hopes for someone who might pursue more radical steps to halt Japan's deflationary spiral.

In the wake of that choice, the U.S. dollar tumbled below the 118-yen level on global currency markets. The dollar's weakness drove major exporters lower.

Meanwhile, North Korea test fired an anti-ship missile that landed in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, raising tensions on the peninsula already roiled by the North's decision to restart its nuclear development program.

Elsewhere, the U.S., Britain, and Spain Monday introduced a new U.N. resolution declaring Iraq has "failed to take the final opportunity" to disarm peacefully.

In trading, Sony Corp dropped 2.6 percent, Nissan sank 4.6 percent, Pioneer rose 2.6 percent, Toyota Motor sank 2.4 percent and Honda Motor lost 3.4 percent.

Seiyu plunged 13.4 percent after the supermarket chain operator said it expects a deeper group net loss for the fiscal year ending this month, mainly due to hefty valuation losses on its stockholdings in the ailing Seibu Department Stores.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks ended lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on growing war fears after the U.S. and Britain circulated a second U.N. resolution against Iraq. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which lost 11.39 points in the previous session, fell 90.99 points, or 1.0 percent, to 9,148.48.

Bucking the market was China's biggest oil producer CNOOC, which jumped 3.4 percent as war fears continued to drive up oil prices.

China's biggest mobile phone operator China Mobile lost 2.3 percent, China Unicom dropped 4.4 percent and Hong Kong's dominant fixed-line telecom operator PCCW Ltd. fell 3.7 percent.

HSBC Holdings eased 0.3 percent and International Bank of Asia lost 1.6 percent after reporting a 24 percent decline in its 2002 earnings.

Prices also ended lower on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange, which rose 60.85 point in the previous session, dropped 154.85 points, 3.4 percent, to 4,454.35.

In trading, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing tumbled 5.1 percent and United Microelectronics fell 3.9 percent.

Prices also ended lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange as tension mounted in the Korean Peninsula. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which gained 12.69 points during the previous session, fell 24.04 points, or 3.9 percent, to 592.25.

While tension mounted in the Korean Peninsula, Roh Moo-hyun was sworn in as South Korean president. Roh is on record as supporting rapprochement with the North, even after the North's resumption of its nuclear programs late last year.

Roh is scheduled to meet U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, at the presidential Blue House for talks likely to be dominated about the North Korean issues.

In trading, Hynix Semiconductor sank 6.4 percent and chip giant Samsung Electronics dropped 6.5 percent.

Prices also ended lower on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which lost 8.24 points during the previous session, fell 16.35 points, or1.3 percent, to 1,290.44.

Elsewhere, prices ended sharply lower in moderate trading on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which gained 32.90 points during the previous session, fell 56.80 points, or 2 percent, to 2,780.50.

In trading, News Corp. tumbled 5.7 percent as investors fears that a possible war in Iraq might hurt the company's advertising sales in the United States. Qantas Airways dropped 4.7 percent, pressured by higher oil prices and war fears.

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