- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

SINGAPORE, March 25 (UPI) — Asian stock markets fell sharply Tuesday, amid increasing concern about the latest developments in the Iraq war and the impact it will have on oil prices and the global economy.

The market is increasingly discounting the possibility of a quick resolution to the conflict, which will affect the world economy the longer it drags on.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei average fell 2.93 percent to 8,238.76, with investors ignoring news the Bank of Japan would increase its purchases of shares held by banks by 50 percent to $24.8 billion. The market had been hoping for a doubling of the amount.

The Nikkei's losses were smaller than those in New York on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 3.6 percent and the technology-rich Nasdaq index was down 3.7 percent.

Japanese blue-chip exporters were hit by heavy selling on concerns about the potential weakening of the dollar, which would push their product's prices higher. Honda Motor Co was down 5.25 percent and Toyota down 3.6 percent.

Regional bourses followed Tokyo's lead. In Hong Hong, the Hang Seng Index ended down 0.5 percent at 9,062.15, with airlines taking the brunt of the selling on concerns oil prices will start rising again. Cathay Pacific lost 2.2 percent, China Southern Airlines fell 3.5 percent and China Eastern Airlines was down 2 percent.

The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index finished down 2.61 percent at 554.98, with the transport sector leading the way lower. Korean Air Co dived 9.91 percent, while Asiana Airlines Co finished down 6.99 percent.

In Taiwan, investors took profits on recent out-performers like TSMC, down 3.92 percent and rival UMC down 3.69 percent. The TAIEX share fell 1.57 percent to 4,498.83.

Singapore's Straits Times index was the only one bucking the trend, up 0.9 percent at 1,311.32, supporting by buying interest in SembCorp Industries, up 3.85 percent. The conglomerate announced a $99 million contract for offshore engineering.

The Jakarta Stock Exchange composite index fell 0.04 percent to close at 394.936 in quiet trading, while the 30-company Philippine Stock Exchange Index ended down 1 percent at 1,022.99.

Meanwhile, Indian stocks ended little changed, shrugging off global weakness since it has already discounted a prolonged war by falling 2.4 percent on Monday.

The 30-share Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index, or Sensex, which fell 78.37 points during the previous session, added 0.06 points to 3,140.42.

Analysts said some bargain-buying helped pull the Sensex index out of a slide triggered by overnight losses in the United States.

Some state-run oil companies ended higher after the Supreme Court said the government can go ahead with the privatization of them, irrespective of pending petitions challenging the move. Bharat Petroleum jumped 3.2 percent and Hindustan Petroleum rose 1.1 percent.

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