- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

TOKYO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended mixed Friday in moderate trading as a late bout of short-covering lifted some high-tech stocks.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which eased 14.27 points Thursday, added 23.13 points, 0.3 percent, to 8,339.94 — as the last-minute buying managed to lift the index above its 19-year closing low of 8,303.39 of March 25, 1983. The gain was the Nikkei's first in six sessions.

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The broader Topix Index, which eased 0.56 points during the previous session, slipped 3.98 points, or 0.5 percent, to 821.18. During the session the Topix fell as low as 817.52, near its 18-year closing low of 815.74 set Dec. 18.

Despite the Nikkei's rise, declines outpaced advances, 973 to 388 and 131 issues settled unchanged.

Volume rose to an estimated 828.63 million shares from 740.57 million shares changing hands Thursday.

Analysts said stocks ended mixed as a late bout of short-covering lifted some high-tech stocks, cushioning the ongoing unwinding of cross-held shares that left even blue chips boasting strong profit growth down on the day.

Economic indicators released during the session provided little ammunition for the bulls intent on bargain hunting. Before the market opened, the government reported Japan's jobless rate returned to a record 5.5 percent in December, while both household spending and consumer prices continued to tumble.

Investors also shrugged off comments in parliament by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his economic ministers. Economy Minister Heizo Takenaka said Japan would face a "real crisis" if it delayed cleaning up public finances and banks' bad loans.

In trading, Sony Corp. fell 1.3 percent, Canon slipped 0.5 percent despite reporting Thursday that it had posted record profits for 2002 and predicting further growth this year.

NEC Corp. fell 2.3 percent after saying it will skip dividend payments this fiscal year for the first time since it started disclosing full year earnings releases in 1976.

Hitachi eased 0.2 percent after announcing a midterm business plan, which includes the withdrawal from non-core operations.

Meanwhile, prices ended at an 18-month low on the Singapore Stock Exchange in a half-day session ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday. The key Straits Times Index, which dropped 6.96 points during the previous session, fell 4.45 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,291.44.

Markets in Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan were closed the Chinese Lunar New Year. Trading in Hong Kong is to resume Tuesday with the blue-chip Hang Seng Index hovering at 9,258.95 after rising 18.16 points Thursday. Trading in Korea is to resume Monday with the Korean Composite Stock Price Index at 591.86 after rising 8.51 points Thursday.

The Taiwan Stock Exchange remained closed Friday for the long Chinese New Year holidays. The market will remain closed until next Thursday after the Weighted Index rose 42.57 points to 5,015.16 during Tuesday's session.

Prices ended lower on the Australian Stock Exchange in light trading, dragged down by weakness in media stocks. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which rose 13.10 points during the previous session, fell 7.60 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,935.40.

Analysts said the market clawed back from early losses to close slightly lower as fresh U.S. earnings jitters and the prospect of war in Iraq continued to hurt majors like media giant News Corp., which lost 1.7 percent.

Meanwhile, insurer AMP lost 4.2 percent following concerns about its earnings, Commonwealth Bank eased 0.4 percent and global miner Rio Tinto lost 0.7 percent.

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