- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 27 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended little changed in moderate trading Thursday as weakness in high-tech issues offset some bargain hunting in bank stocks.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which eased 3.68 points during the previous session, added 2.57 points, or 0.03 percent, to 8,359.38. The broader Topix index, which eased 0.80 point in the previous session, added 0.82 point to 819.20.

Advances outpaced declines 749 to 608, while another 138 issues settled unchanged.

Volume improved to an estimated 743.95 million shares from 598.22 million shares changing hands on Wednesday.

Analysts said stocks ended flat after flirting with 19-year lows, as selling of high-tech issues on the back of the U.S. dollar's weakness against the Japanese yen was offset by some bargain hunting of beaten-down bank shares.

But investors continued to voice concerns about growing geopolitical tensions and signs of weakness in the U.S. economy.

For much of the session, the Nikkei traded below the 19-year closing low of 8,303.39 it posted back in November of last year, as key high-tech and export shares failed to attract buying.

With the dollar slumping to 117-yen on global currency markets and tech company Hewlett-Packard reporting disappointing results, high-tech stocks came under pressure.

In trading, Toshiba dropped 3.4 percent and Hitachi fell 2 percent. Some other high-tech blue chips, such as Canon, Pioneer and Keyence posted small gains despite the yen's continued strength against the dollar. A strong yen hurts the price competitiveness of Japanese products overseas and erodes overseas earnings when repatriated.

Meanwhile, in an active banking sector, UFJ Holdings jumped 7.4 percent, Mizuho Holdings gained 3 percent and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group rose 0.6 percent.

Steel company JFE Holdings rose 4.2 percent on news of solid exports to China and South Korea.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks snapped their five-day losing streak on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, lifted by some bouts of bargain hunting. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which fell 32.20 points in the previous session, rose 17.96 points, or 0.2 percent, to 9,134.24.

Despite the gain, analysts said, war fears continued to dampen trading after chief United Nation's weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq still had not made a fundamental decision to disarm.

In trading, Chinese oil producer CNOOC rose 1.9 percent as crude prices rallied to post-Gulf War highs on news of low U.S. supplies. But Cathay Pacific Airways fell 1.4 percent as higher oil prices stand to push up jet fuel costs.

Bank of East Asia jumped 2.9 percent, Hong Kong's dominant fixed-line telecom carrier PCCW Ltd. fell 1 percent, China Mobile slipped 0.6 percent, rival China Unicom fell 0.5 percent and global bank HSBC Holdings, Hong Kong's biggest stock, gained 0.3 percent.

Elsewhere around the region, prices ended lower in moderate trading on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange, which rose 2.34 points in the previous session, lost 24.23 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,432.46.

Markets in Taiwan will be closed on Friday for the Peace Memorial Day holiday. Trading will resume on Monday.

Among some of the active issues, Compal Electronics, which supplies Hewlett-Packard with notebook computers, lost 2.1 percent and

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing lost 1.9 percent.

Prices also lost ground in cautious trading on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which eased 1.99 points during the previous session, lost 7.80 points, or 1.3 percent, to 582.46.

In trading, chip giant Samsung Electronics fell 0.2 percent and SK Telecom dropped 2.9 percent.

Prices also ended lower in moderate trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange. The Straits Times Index, which lost 3.30 points during the previous session, lost 15.89 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,271.25.

Analysts said stocks declined after the government reported that the country's gross domestic product grew 2.2 percent in 2002, in line with market's expectations.

GDP grew 3 percent in the fourth quarter from a year ago. The country maintained its economic growth forecast of 2 percent to 5 percent for this year. The news failed to inspire investors.

In trading, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing fell 0.7 percent and DBS Group Holdings dropped 2 percent.

Elsewhere, prices also lost ground on the Australian Stock Exchange in fairly active dealings. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which gained 23.70 points during the previous session, fell 29.50 points, or 1 percent, to 2,774.70.

In trading, Telstra fell 2.4 percent after the telecom giant reported a 44 percent drop in its first-half profits due to a hefty writedown on its undersea cable joint venture with Hong Kong's PCCW.

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