MUMBAI (MarketWatch) — Most Asian stocks finished with minor losses after moving off session lows Friday as a strong quarter for regional equities drew to a close.
Both the Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -0.57% and the Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +0.11% fell 0.3%, while the South Korean Kospi index /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -0.71% finished fractionally lower. The Australian S&P/ASX 200 index /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.13% fell 0.1%.
On the upside, the Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 +2.30% managed to claw back a portion of recent losses to gain 0.5%. Next week, stock markets in mainland China will be closed for much of the week for holiday-related celebrations.
“People are just waiting for more news, for instance on European debt, U.S. economic figures or Chinese economic figures,” said Peter Lai, director at DBS Vickers in Hong Kong, describing Friday’s action as “a bit boring.”
The cautious trade came ahead of a key meeting of European finance ministers set for later in the global trading day, and China’s manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index data, due out Sunday.
In contrast to Friday’s lackluster performance, the Hang Seng Index has risen 11.5% over the quarter, the Shanghai Composite is up 2.9%, the Nikkei Average has gained 19.2% — a track for its best quarter in decades — the Kospi has climbed 10.3%, and the S&P/ASX 200 has managed to erase some of its recent underperformance to trade up 6.9%.
Some of the quarterly performance can be explained by currency moves. While the relative strength of the Australian dollar has weighed on the Sydney stock market during the quarter, for example, the opposite has been the case in Japan, where stocks have been lifted as the yen eased against major counterparts.
Dow climbs late to eke out a gain
Stocks end mostly lower as economic data and overseas concerns weigh on investor sentiment, though blue chips eke out their first gain in three days with a late-day surge. Photo: Reuters.
Among the region’s more dramatic moves Friday was a sell-down in Hong Kong real-estate stocks after the arrest of two of the city’s prominent property tycoons.
Shares of Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/209086152/delayed HK:16 -0.26% /zigman2/quotes/205427525/delayed SUHJY -2.30% came off Thursday’s trading halt to plunge 13.1% after the arrest of the firm’s chiefs, brothers Thomas and Raymond Kwok, reportedly on suspicion of bribery.
Other property developers also dropped, especially those focused on Hong Kong, with Henderson Land Development Co. /zigman2/quotes/208724890/delayed HK:12 -0.41% /zigman2/quotes/206540703/delayed HLDVF -7.90% down 2.5%, Wharf Holdings Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202854264/delayed HK:4 +0.50% /zigman2/quotes/209480994/delayed WARFF 0.00% lower by 2.9%, and Sino Land Co. /zigman2/quotes/202960683/delayed HK:83 +0.73% /zigman2/quotes/207532535/delayed SNLAF +2.86% losing 3.6%.
DBS Vickers’ Lai said the news surrounding SHK — a key constituent of the Hang Seng Index — was dragging on the rest of the sector, as the arrests may be reminding investors of 10 or 20 years ago when “this sort of scenario was not uncommon”
Still, earnings-related gains helped to limit downside for Hong Kong and helped the Shanghai index to gains.
China’s biggest lender, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201401473/delayed HK:1398 -0.54% /zigman2/quotes/204265987/delayed IDCBF 0.00% /zigman2/quotes/202525815/delayed CN:601398 +0.55% , rose 1.6% in Hong Kong and 1.2% in Shanghai after reporting a record-high 2011 profit. Read more on ICBC earnings.
Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204682472/delayed HK:3988 -0.93% /zigman2/quotes/201568493/delayed BACHY -0.88% /zigman2/quotes/209359942/delayed CN:601988 +0.83% also gained 1.6% in Hong Kong, while advancing 2.1% in Shanghai, after its own earnings beat estimates. Read more on Bank of China results.
Most energy stocks were losing ground in Asia after crude-oil futures ended at a six-week low in New York trading overnight on an easing in supply worries. Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said his country is able to increase supplies to counter higher oil prices. Read more on oil futures.
In Sydney, Woodside Petroleum Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203437212/delayed AU:WPL +0.35% /zigman2/quotes/206770672/delayed WOPEF +3.37% fell 1.4%, while in Tokyo, Inpex Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206689846/delayed JP:1605 +0.28% /zigman2/quotes/207958170/delayed IPXHY +0.77% dropped 0.7%, and Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. /zigman2/quotes/201212147/delayed JP:1662 -0.50% /zigman2/quotes/202925532/delayed JPTXF -1.12% lost 1.4%. However, Cnooc Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203421416/delayed HK:883 0.00% /zigman2/quotes/204964401/composite CEO +0.43% gained 0.3% in Hong Kong.
Manufacturing-related firms were some of the worst performers in Tokyo after Japanese industrial output data for February showed that production fell 1.2% last month, far below forecasts for a 1.3% gain, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey of economists. See report on Japanese industrial production results.
Fanuc Corp. /zigman2/quotes/202054799/delayed JP:6954 -0.46% /zigman2/quotes/206262686/delayed FANUF +0.40% fell 2.9%, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/206655821/delayed JP:7012 +0.09% /zigman2/quotes/202288565/delayed KWHIF -5.62% declined 1.2%.
Banks also lost ground in Japan after weak U.S. economic data dented financials on Wall Street.
Mizuho Financial Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204507985/delayed JP:8411 +0.82% /zigman2/quotes/200950467/composite MFG -0.71% dropped 2.2%, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203656770/delayed JP:8316 +0.61% /zigman2/quotes/206471416/composite SMFG -1.17% traded down 1.8%, and Tokyo-listed shares of Citigroup Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207741460/composite C +0.22% slid 2.1%.
In Australia, gains from metal giants BHP Billiton Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -0.19% /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -1.54% and Rio Tinto Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO +0.11% /zigman2/quotes/202627887/composite RIO -0.28% supported the market, with BHP trading up 1.1% and Rio adding 1.6%.