By Sarah Turner, MarketWatch
SYDNEY (MarketWatch) — Asian stocks moved off opening losses Thursday, with many indexes finishing in positive territory, though the Hong Kong market ended solidly lower as European debt concerns depressed financials.
South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -1.49% rose 1.1%, while Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.39% closed with a 0.2% gain, and the Australian S&P/ASX 200 index /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.33% rose 0.3%.
However, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.09% ended down 0.8%, as futures pointed to losses in European markets ahead of key French and Spanish sovereign-bond auctions later in the day.
The Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 -0.06% ended down a more modest 0.2%.
Turmoil spreads in Europe
Europe's debt troubles spilled over to top-rated nations that had been largely untouched by the crisis-including Austria, the Netherlands, Finland and France-in an ominous sign for European policy makers..
Asia-listed shares had been hit this week by further worries about Europe’s debt crisis expanding to other members of the euro zone, as bond yields for some nations rose.
U.S. stocks dropped sharply on Wednesday after ratings firm Fitch warned of trouble for U.S. banks should Europe’s debt trouble worsen. Read more on U.S. stocks.
“I think that there was an overreaction in the U.S.” said Melbourne-based Austock Stockbroking senior client adviser Michael Heffernan. “Fitch didn’t say there was going to be any direct adverse impact on American banks at this stage, but depending on how things go, it could have implications.”
For Asia, Heffernan said he saw “some pretty attractive valuations out there,” which help spur some of the buying in Japan, Australia and South Korea.
Technology firms were among the notable gainers in much of Asia. Shares of Hynix Semiconductor Inc. rose 3.8% in Seoul after it and U.S. peer Micron Technology Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205710729/composite MU -3.41% won a price-fixing suit filed against them by Rambus Inc. /zigman2/quotes/208867483/composite RMBS -1.80% See report on Hynix-Rambus verdict.
Also in Japan, Sharp Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203224600/delayed JP:6753 -0.54% /zigman2/quotes/207472799/delayed SHCAF +3.24% rose 3.9%, and Advantest Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206869087/delayed JP:6857 -0.89% /zigman2/quotes/202479540/delayed ADTTF -9.55% added 3.1%, while Seoul-listed LG Display Co. /zigman2/quotes/204466928/composite LPL -1.42% finished 3.1% higher.
Resources saw gains as well, with Japanese energy major Inpex Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206689846/delayed JP:1605 -0.23% /zigman2/quotes/207958170/delayed IPXHY -0.66% , up 1.2%, and Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. /zigman2/quotes/201212147/delayed JP:1662 -1.14% /zigman2/quotes/202925532/delayed JPTXF -1.12% , rising 3.6%, as benchmark Nymex crude-oil futures traded over the key $100-a-barrel mark.
In Australia’s key mining sector, BHP Billiton Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -0.78% /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -0.45% climbed 1.1%, and rival Rio Tinto Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO -0.46% /zigman2/quotes/202627887/composite RIO +0.79% rose 0.6%.
“They have been knocked around a lot in the last few days,” said Austock’s Heffernan of BHP and Rio Tinto.
Hong Kong lags behind
Hong Kong took another session of losses, as the European uncertainties kept banks in check.
Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201401473/delayed HK:1398 -0.54% /zigman2/quotes/204265987/delayed IDCBF -2.42% ended down 1.5%, Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204682472/delayed HK:3988 -0.93% /zigman2/quotes/201568493/delayed BACHY +0.10% fell 2.6%, China Merchants Bank Co. /zigman2/quotes/209899244/delayed HK:3968 -0.77% /zigman2/quotes/209895294/delayed CIHHF -1.82% lost 3.1%, and Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200705246/delayed HK:1288 -0.63% /zigman2/quotes/209398792/delayed ACGBF +0.93% dropped 1.7%.
Some Hong Kong-listed property stocks also took sharp falls, with China Resources Land Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202417326/delayed HK:1109 -1.26% /zigman2/quotes/201656413/delayed CRBJF +5.00% dropping 4.1% and Agile Property Holdings Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/210448079/delayed HK:3383 -0.53% /zigman2/quotes/200754284/delayed AGPYY -6.91% falling 2.3%.
First Shanghai Securities chief strategist Linus Yip saw technical factors constraining the broader market, noting the Hang Seng Index approached the 19,000 level but was unable to break through, before closing at 18,817.47.
“I think it’s just a technical fall [for Hong Kong] — the fundamentals haven’t significantly changed,” Yip said.
“The market needs some stimulus to bring the Hang Seng Index back above 19,000,” such as monetary-policy easing in China, he said.
Among other Hong Kong decliners, Europe-exposed Esprit Holdings Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/205943307/delayed HK:330 -1.41% /zigman2/quotes/209270177/delayed ESHDF -2.78% lost 6.1%. The stock fell sharply in the previous session after it was removed from the MSCI Hong Kong Index, and Thursday’s move brought its month-to-date losses to just under 21%.