By Virginia Harrison, MarketWatch
SYDNEY (MarketWatch) — Asia share markets ended mostly lower Thursday, as concerns about Europe‘s debt crisis kept investors sidelined in a quiet trading session.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI +0.01% declined 0.7%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO +1.88% fell 0.4%, and Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +1.59% lost 0.3%.
South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 +0.84% ended almost flat, while the Shanghai Composite /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 -2.79% managed to shed early losses to edge up 0.2%.
Delta Asia Financial Markets’ head of equities Conita Hung said offshore threats were pressuring Asian stocks in very thin trade.
“Europe’s issues are still the major concern. The market is quiet, and turnover is very light because of the holiday-shortened week. We’re also seeing some profit-taking before year-end,” Hung said.
The performance in Asia followed falls for U.S. stocks ahead of Thursday’s auction of long-dated Italian debt, seen as a crucial test of that nation’s ability to borrow at sustainable rates.
A report from the European Central Bank (ECB) showing it had significantly boosted lending to banks also added to concerns about the debt-stricken region, and helped send the euro /zigman2/quotes/210561242/realtime/sampled EURUSD +0.3509% to a 15-month low overnight. Read more on the U.S. session.
“Traders seem to be blaming the move lower in risk assets on the news that the ECB’s balance sheet had hit a new euro-era high,” said Chris Weston, institutional dealer at IG Markets in Sydney.
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Japanese technology exporters were among the losers in Tokyo on Thursday, weighed by the fall in the euro against the Japanese yen.
Sharp Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203224600/delayed JP:6753 +3.70% /zigman2/quotes/207472799/composite SHCAF -4.17% lost 3.2%, while Casio Computer Co. /zigman2/quotes/202492162/delayed JP:6952 +2.45% /zigman2/quotes/206719136/composite CSIOY -2.32% fell 2.7%, and Advantest Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206869087/delayed JP:6857 -0.44% /zigman2/quotes/202479540/composite ADTTF +1.36% gave up 1.1%.
Shares of Elpida Memory Inc. dropped 5.1% after the Asahi Shimbun reported the Japanese chip-maker may seek to delay repayment of government loans. See report on possible Elpida repayment delay.
Some South Korean tech shares fared better, however, with Dow Jones Newswires reporting strong interest from domestic institutions. Hynix Semiconductor Inc. climbed 3.8%, while LG Display Co. /zigman2/quotes/204466928/composite LPL +2.71% rose 3.6%, shrugging off a Financial Times report that thousands of employees at an LG Display factory in China had gone on strike over year-end bonuses.
Volatile mainland Chinese property shares came under sharp selling pressure in Hong Kong, with China Resources Land Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202417326/delayed HK:1109 -2.34% /zigman2/quotes/201656413/composite CRBJF +0.49% dropping 4.9%, Agile Property Holdings Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/210448079/delayed HK:3383 +2.09% /zigman2/quotes/200754284/composite AGPYY +16.31% down 2.7% and Guangzhou R&F Properties Co. /zigman2/quotes/200033596/delayed HK:2777 +0.33% /zigman2/quotes/210465272/composite GZUHY -4.65% giving up 3.6%.
The moves came amid growing concern about the health of the Chinese real-estate market, but stood in contrast with action on the mainland, where Shenzhen-listed China Vanke Co. rose 0.9% and Poly Real Estate Group Co. /zigman2/quotes/201864015/delayed CN:600048 -2.84% gained 0.7% in Shanghai.
Shares of Chinese Internet major Alibaba.com Ltd. closed with a 0.5% gain in Hong Kong amid reports the company had hired a U.S. political lobbying firm in preparation for a possible bid to buy Yahoo Inc. See report on Alibaba’s lobbyist hire.
Meanwhile, commodity-linked firms extended previous-session losses across Asia.
Hong Kong-listed China Coal Energy Co. /zigman2/quotes/201486584/delayed HK:1898 -1.01% /zigman2/quotes/205321671/composite CCOZY 0.00% fell 1.5%, and Cnooc Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203421416/delayed HK:883 +1.03% /zigman2/quotes/204964401/composite CEO +1.16% dropped 1% after benchmark Nymex crude-oil futures lost 2% during the U.S. session.
Likewise, losses for gold futures sent Zijin Mining Group Co. /zigman2/quotes/204517000/delayed HK:2899 -2.08% /zigman2/quotes/209836076/composite ZIJMF 0.00% down 2.4%, while Sydney-listed gold producer Newcrest Mining Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203840223/delayed AU:NCM +2.34% /zigman2/quotes/203286036/composite NCMGY +0.50% shed 3%.
Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202351558/delayed AU:FMG +3.35% gave up 2.1% in Sydney, while OZ Minerals Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/208047353/delayed AU:OZL +3.81% lost 2.9% after the miner reported a train carrying copper concentrate derailed in Australia’s Northern Territory. However, OZ said the incident wouldn’t be financially material.