- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Asian stock markets were mixed Wednesday, with Hong Kong’s index down 1 percent, amid more evidence of decay in the region’s two largest economies, Japan and China.

Automakers like Honda Motor Co. and leading financials were strong, though the region traded off its highs. The dollar and crude oil prices both slipped.

Investors paused in the face of new data underlining Asia’s continuing struggles as plummeting demand in industrialized countries hits the region’s exports.

The contraction in China’s manufacturing _ which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s third-biggest economy _ worsened last month, according to a key survey. In Japan, confidence at the country’s major manufacturers dived to an all-time low.

Asian markets have surged in recent weeks as nascent signs of stabilization in the U.S. economy and banking sector helped turn around sentiment about the outlook for the global economy.

But many analysts are bracing for a reversal if corporate earnings and economic figures point to more trouble in the region.

“You definitely need good numbers to sustain this upward momentum, and the numbers coming from companies and about economic activity are not particularly strong,” said Alex Tang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International in Hong Kong. “If we keep seeing further deterioration, we’re going to hit resistance.”

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average rose 144.24 points, or 1.8 percent, to 8,253.77, while South Korea’s Kospi added 1.6 percent to 1,225.03. Automakers like Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Hyundai helped lead their markets higher, while banks such as top Japanese lender Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group also gained.

Shanghai’s key index, meanwhile, added 1.1 percent.

Among down markets, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed its gains to fall 139.45 points, or 1 percent, to 13,436.57. Australia and Singapore benchmarks also declined.

In the U.S. overnight, the Dow rose 86.90 points, or 1.2 percent, to 7,608.92, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 10.34 points, or 1.3 percent, to 797.87. European benchmarks also closed higher.

Wall Street was headed for a modestly lower open as U.S. futures lost ground.

Oil prices fell in Asian trade, with the May contract for benchmark crude off $1.23 at $48.43. Overnight, the contract rose $1.25 to settle at $49.66.

In currencies, the dollar weakened to 98.45 yen from 99.17 yen. The euro slipped to $1.3194.

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