- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

SINGAPORE, March 11 (UPI) — Most Asian stock markets continued the downward spiral Tuesday, with the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo closing below the 8,000 level for the first time in more than 20 years.

The possible war in Iraq remained at the forefront of investors' mind and many markets also reacted to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite Index's sharp losses Monday. Singapore was the only market escaping the selling as investors focused on positive local news.

The Nikkei lost 2.2 percent to close at 7,862.43, its lowest close since January 1983 and its sixth consecutive session of declines. Given the recent sharp losses, concerns are mounting about the health of the Japanese financial system and banks were in the line of fire with Sumitomo Mitsui down 12 percent.

Investors paid little attention to the Bank of Japan's injection of 1 trillion yen in liquidity into the money market. Japan's ruling coalition parties are said to be considering a policy package to combat the stock market's slide, including further monetary easing and a delay in stricter accounting rules.

Meanwhile, the benchmark index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange lost 1.4 percent to close at 4260.45, its lowest close in five months. China Steel fell 3.5 percent on a newspaper report the company's clients have urged it to cut prices. But a few technology stocks outperformed the index, with United Microelectronics up 0.5 percent after reporting a 51 percent on-year surge in February revenue.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index fell 2.2 percent to 532.53. The bearish sentiment was reinforced by local news related to the SK Group, after the South Korean prosecutors found accounting irregularities at SK Global, the trading affiliate of the country's third-largest conglomerate.

In Hong Kong, the blue-chip Hang Seng Index ended flat at 8859.93, finding some support from CITIC Pacific, up 4 percent ahead of its 2002 net profit to be released Wednesday. The company is expected to post sharp gains.

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index bucked the regional trend, adding 0.2 percent to 1216.11. The index was pulled by strong gains in ST Engineering, up 5.5 percent on news of a China joint-venture. The company's aerospace division has formed a $98 million joint venture with China Eastern Airlines to build a commercial aircraft-repair facility in Shanghai.

In Manila, the composite stock index closed down 0.36 percent at 1,007.11, with pressure from the telecom sector. On Monday, the U.S. phone regulator ordered American carriers to stop paying fees for calls terminating in the Philippines, following a complaint by AT&T; and WorldCom that Filipino telecoms had blocked inbound calls after the U.S. firms refused to pay higher termination fees. The local firms have denied blocking calls.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co closed down 0.86 percent.

The Kuala Lumpur's 100-stock Composite Index closed at 619.22 points, down 0.89 percent, despite the release of a package of measures to support the capital market. Fixed-line operator Telekom Malaysia and its takeover target Celcom were suspended in the afternoon prior to news that Celcom shareholder's Deutsche Telekom had filed a claim for damages over Celcom's planned merger with Telekom.

The Stock Exchange of Thailand Index closed down 0.7 percent at 350.98, while in Jakarta, the composite index slid 0.87 percent to 379.35.

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