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March 14, 2000, 2:11 a.m. EST

AsiaMarkets: Nikkei closes down; Taiwan faces up

By Mariko Ando

TOKYO (CBS.MW) -- Tokyo's key Nikkei index ended lower Tuesday, dragged down by banks and other traditionally defensive shares. The benchmark Nikkei average gave up early gains, finishing down 48.09 points, or 0.25 percent, at 19,141.84. But the TOPIX index of all shares listed on the first section rose 1.53 percent to 1,581.97.

Taiwan's stocks rebounded to a higher close, aided by foreign fund buying and what seemed to be the government's intervention. The Taiwan financial authorities decided to intervene in the stock market to prop up share prices, following an emergency meeting in the morning to discuss measures to stabilize the market, Kyodo news reported. The benchmark Weighted Index added 23.63 points, or 0.27 percent, to close at 8,835.58, after sliding as low as 8,598.07 points. The gauge plunged 6.55 percent Monday amid political concerns, with Chinese relations looming over the countdown to next weekend's presidential elections.

Hong Kong's market ended the morning session modestly lower as investors took to the sidelines ahead of Taiwan's general election. The Hang Seng Index fell 23 points, or 1.13 percent, at 17,073.68 after moving as low as 16,867.92. The gauge closed down more than 4 percent Monday, weighed down by Internet and telecommunications stocks.

The losses were led by heavyweight Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.'s 3.1 percent drop and a 4.2 percent decline in shares of Legend Holdings Ltd. . In the currency markets, the dollar eased slightly against the yen, trading recently at 105.47 yen, compared with 105.55 yen late Monday in New York.

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In New York, the greenback had fallen as low as 104.81 yen at one point -- its lowest level since Jan. 27.

Japanese Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said earlier in the day that the economy had now entered a self-sustainable recovery phrase.

His optimistic assessment pointed to an upturn in corporate capital investment and the nation's gross domestic product report released Monday.

As for the stock markets, "Tokyo's markets were having a quiet day, so any big orders were having a greater-than-usual impact on share prices and indexes' directions," said Teruhisa Ishikawa, deputy manager of investment products at Izumi Securities Co. High-priced Internet-related groups extended their losses. Shares of leading anti-virus software maker Trend Micro lost by its daily limit of 2,000 yen to 18,500. Trans Cosmos plunged more than 9 percent, and Softbank was down 5.1 percent. Active Internet investor Hikari Tsushin ended the session ask-only at 83,500, as against its close Monday of 88,500. Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's key Kospi Index lost 10.76 points, or 1.26 percent, to 843.90 after sinking 4.12 percent Monday. Key gauges of India and New Zealand both lost more than 1 percent. Australia's All Ordinaries Index closed at 3,187.40, down 0.09 percent. Meanwhile, Thailand's and the Philippines' benchmark gauges both gained more than 1.8 percent.

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