- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

SINGAPORE, March 21 (UPI) — Asian shares ended mixed Friday with investors glued to the developments in Iraq. Speculation on how long the war will last, with the possibility it may be longer than expected, took its toll on Asian markets, which also had no lead from Tokyo, closed for a national holiday.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index continued to outperform the region, rising 1.3 percent at 575.77. But this partly reflected the fact the market had under-performed in the last weeks because of the SK Global accounting scandal. The rise came against a backdrop of worsening economic outlook for the country with the central bank announcing it would revise down its growth forecast for 2003 soon due to sluggish consumption and slower growth in exports.

In Singapore, the Straits Times index also closed up 1.4 percent to 1326.15, a seven-week high. The banking sector remained a strong buy, with OCBC up 2.59 percent, DBS up 2.09 percent and UOB up 0.95 percent.

But elsewhere in the region, profit-taking crept in ahead of the weekend, with the Taiwan Weighted Price Index ending down 0.3 percent at 4586.92 and the Hang Seng Index down 0.2 percent at 9179.19.

The Kuala Lumpur's Composite Index closed nearly flat, up 0.02 percent at 632.17 points. Activity centered on conglomerate IOI Corp., down 8.7 percent after it indicated it would buy 21,722 hectares of oil palm estates from a group of investors, including its major shareholder, for $160 million. There are concerns the company may be paying too much for the properties.

In Manila, the main index fell 0.69 percent to 1,032.15 points, with selling on Ayala Corp., pressuring the market.

The Jakarta Stock Exchange composite index fell 0.15 per cent to close at 394.039.

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