- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2008

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese stocks fell Wednesday, with investors turning glum after a fresh round of poor U.S. economic data, as well as more bad news from Toyota Motor Corp.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average lost 206.68 points, or 2.37 percent, to 8,517.10 after its highest close in more than a month on Monday. The broader Topix index fell 2.56 percent to 826.99.

Japan markets were closed Tuesday for a national holiday.

Overnight, Wall Street finished lower for the fifth straight day after the U.S. government said new home sales fell to the slowest pace in almost 18 years. It also said third-quarter gross domestic product fell at an annual rate of 0.5 percent.

Ever-darkening prospects for the U.S. economy are sending chills through Japanese exporters, who are already hurting badly from the global slowdown and the yen’s sharp appreciation.

Toyota Motor Corp., the country’s top auto maker and an iconic symbol of Japan Inc., said Wednesday its global vehicle sales plunged 21.8 percent to 618,000 automobiles in November. The figure marks its biggest drop in eight years and comes two days after the company predicted its first operating loss in 70 years this fiscal year through March.

“We think the challenges will grow more severe for Toyota with its product lineup ranging from luxury cars (and) large pickup trucks to medium/compact vehicles,” said Goldman Sachs analysts Kota Yuzawa and Yukihiro Koike in a report Wednesday.

Shares of Toyota fell 3.97 percent to 2,780 yen, dragging down the auto sector.

Honda Motor Co. shed 5.67 percent to 1,797 yen, and Nissan Motor Co. retreated 2.63 percent to 296 yen. Auto parts maker Denso Corp., which is affiliated with Toyota, lost 1.81 percent to 1,355 yen after slashing its full-year profit forecast by 90 percent.

Banking shares were also lackluster amid concerns about the U.S. housing market. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. was off 5.53 percent at 376,000 yen, and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. dropped 4.63 percent to 257,700 yen.

In currencies, the dollar weakened to 90.38 yen from 90.85 late Tuesday. The euro stood at $1.3971 from $1.3932.

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