- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

TOKYO, Feb. 28 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended mixed Friday in moderate trading as an early attempt to rally ran out of steam.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which added 2.57 points during the previous session, tacked on another 3.66 points, or 0.04 percent, to 8,363.04 — well below its best level of the session of 8,448.78.

The broader Topix index, which added 0.82 point in the previous session, slipped 0.47 points, or 0.06 percent, to 818.73.

Advances outpaced declines 714 to 632.

Volume improved to an estimated 764.07 million shares from 743.95 million shares changing hands on Thursday.

Analysts said the Nikkei average ended fractionally higher after early buying of blue chip exporters ran out of steam.

The early buying was spurred amid suspicions Japanese monetary authorities might be intervening in the currency market to curb the yen's rise against the U.S. dollar, traders said.

A stronger yen hurts Japanese exporters because it makes their goods more expensive and less competitive abroad.

But the Nikkei erased most of its early gains because of futures-linked selling by brokerages ahead of upcoming futures settlement, traders said.

The Japanese government also announced Friday that Japan's unemployment rate was stuck at 5.5 percent, the third time in six months the jobless rate reached that record-high level.

Analysts said the markets remain focused on tensions in Iraq, with investors aware that a U.S.-led war in the Gulf country could affect global financial markets.

Paper makers were the worst-performing sector for the second straight day, on continued worries that a rise in the price of oil, which on Thursday hit its highest level since the Gulf War, would lead to higher fuel costs.

Oji Paper, Japan's second-largest paper maker, fell 2.4 percent while industry leader Nippon Unipac Holding lost 1.5 percent.

Elsewhere, video game maker Sega Corp. soared 15.6 percent after the Asian Wall Street Journal said that software giant Microsoft Corp. and game maker Electronic Arts Inc. were considering a bid for Sega.

Meanwhile, Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Japan's second-largest automaker, gained 2.4 percent, Nippon Oil climbed 5.9 percent and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group Inc. fell 3.3 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, stocks ended slightly lower on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which rose 17.96 points in the previous session, eased 11.58 points, or 0.13 percent, to 9,122.66.

Analysts said stocks eased in paper-thin trading as many investors opted for the sidelines ahead of earnings from banking giant HSBC Holdings and other blue chips next week and before Wednesday's annual budget that is expected to include tax hikes.

In trading, property-to-retail conglomerate Swire Pacific rose 1.8 percent, Chinese oil producer CNOOC jumped 2.3 percent, fixed-line telecom operator PCCW Ltd. gained 2 percent and China Mobile, Hong Kong's second-biggest stock, fell 2.3 percent and supply chain manager Li & Fung fell 3.2 percent.

HSBC Holdings, Hong Kong's largest stock, settled unchanged ahead of its 2002 results on Monday when investors will be looking for a robust profit.

Prices also ended lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange, pushed down by fears of a possible war in Iraq and the restarting of a nuclear reaction by North Korea.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which lost 7.80 points during the previous session, lost another 7.03 points, or 1.2 percent, to 575.43. The index has lost nearly 6 percent since Monday, when North Korea test-fired at least one anti-ship missile into the Sea of Japan.

In trading, chip giant Samsung Electronics lost 1.2 percent, SK Telecom lost 1.2 percent and the country's top lender Kookmin sank 3.7 percent.

Prices ended slightly higher in moderate trading on the Singapore Stock Exchange, snapping its four-day losing streak on Thursday's gains on Wall Street. The Straits Times Index, which lost 15.89 points during the previous session, rose 2.60 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,273.85.

Elsewhere around the region, markets in Taiwan were closed Friday for the Peace Memorial Day holiday. Trading will resume on Monday with the Weighted Price Index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange hovering at 4,432.46 after losing 24.23 points on Thursday.

Prices ended slightly higher on the Australian Stock Exchange in fairly active dealings, lifted by Thursday's gains on Wall Street. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which lost 29.50 points during the previous session, gained 3.70 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,778.40.

In trading, News Corp. gained 0.9 percent while telecom giant Telstra lost 2 percent.



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