Asian markets ended mostly lower Monday, with Japanese shares falling on disappointing economic data while profit-taking dragged Hong Kong stocks down.
Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Index fell 2.3% to 12525.54 on the last day of a dreary fiscal year, after weak industrial-production data weighed on sentiment.
Industrial output in Japan fell 1.2% on month in February, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reported early in the day. That was less of a decline than expected, but the second straight month production has dropped.
A report that Tokyo Steel Manufacturing /zigman2/quotes/209350661/delayed JP:5423 +3.13% 's parent is expected to post a 58% drop in operating profit this fiscal year due to rising costs sent steel shares lower. Tokyo Steel Manufacturing fell 6.8%, JFE Steel /zigman2/quotes/204336633/delayed JP:5411 +2.68% dropped 5.4% and Nippon Steel /zigman2/quotes/209782682/delayed JP:5401 +2.52% shed 4.4%.
Marubeni /zigman2/quotes/202870197/delayed JP:8002 +1.40% plunged 6.6% after Lehman Brothers said it filed a lawsuit against the Japanese trading firm demanding $350 million in an unfolding case of alleged massive fraud. Marubeni has denied wrongdoing and says it has no obligation to repay the money. (See related article .)
Elpida Memory rose 2.2% after the company said it would look to raise the price of its DRAM memory chips by 20% as it negotiates contracts with personal computer makers next month.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index fell 1.9% to 22849.20. The index's 2177-point rising streak in the previous four trading sessions was snapped as investors were disappointed over the lack of pro-market policies in mainland China. Market participants had expected China's securities regulator to announce the timeline for the launch of stock index futures over the weekend, but it didn't.
China-related blue chips, which rose strongly Friday, came under profit-taking pressure. Index heavyweight China Mobile /zigman2/quotes/200868736/delayed HK:941 -0.19% fell 2.1% after rising 2.5% Friday; China Life /zigman2/quotes/202359856/delayed HK:2628 -6.09% slid 4.3% following its 6% rise in the previous session; and upstream oil company Cnooc /zigman2/quotes/203421416/delayed HK:883 -1.70% dropped 3.2% after its 6.8% gain Friday, on concerns the possible acquisition of five small refineries in Shandong may hurt its earnings.
Energy-consuming firms rose, however, benefiting from a decline in oil prices. Airline Cathay Pacific /zigman2/quotes/203532437/delayed HK:293 +3.56% advanced 1.7%. China Resources Enterprises /zigman2/quotes/201959750/delayed HK:291 -3.83% also bucked the market's downtrend, rising 1.6% after posting a 78% increase in 2007 net profit.
Meanwhile, the mainland's Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks both Class A and Class B shares, ended down 3% at 3472.71 as investors awaited fresh government measures to boost the stock market amid concerns over first-quarter corporate earnings.
China Life ended down 3.7% after rising 9.9% Friday. China Minsheng Banking fell 3.3% following its 6.4% gain in the previous session.
Investors were concerned about corporate earnings against the backdrop of rising consumer prices, Beijing's tight monetary policy and the snow storms that hit China earlier in the year.
"Listed companies generally won't report very good first-quarter earnings given the severe snow storm before the Lunar New Year holiday (in February)," said Wang Junqing at Guosen Securities.
However, telecommunications equipment makers rose after China Mobile Communications said it will begin testing the country's third-generation wireless standard from April 1. TCL rose 2.9% while Beijing Zhongchuang Telecom Test was up 1.5%.
In Seoul, the Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, erased early losses and ended a marginal 0.1% higher at 1703.99.
Gains in heavyweight technology stocks on hopes of firm first-quarter earnings offset negative investor sentiment stemming from weak performances in other markets.
Most financial stocks, in particular banking stocks, declined on a lack of solid earnings momentum, said analysts. Kookmin Bank lost 0.9%, while its rival Shinhan Financial Group fell 0.4%.
Bucking the broader market trend, Hynix Semiconductor, the world's second-largest memory maker by revenue, jumped 5.9% while Samsung Electronics gained 1.6%. Shares of local major chipmakers outperformed on news that Elpida Memory and Nabya Technology are look to increase the prices of chips they sell to clients. Kosdaq-listed NHN, the country's top internet portal, also outperformed, closing 4.1% higher on news it will buy back 1.3 million of its own shares from the market.
Elsewhere, Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 finished nearly flat, up 0.1% at 5355.7. Most traders didn't read much into Monday's share market activity, which was dominated by end-of-quarter business. Financials were generally weak, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia /zigman2/quotes/200638713/delayed AU:CBA -0.12% falling 2.1%, ANZ Bank /zigman2/quotes/205482049/delayed AU:ANZ -0.91% down 2.7% and QBE Insurance down 1.4%. Resources mostly lost ground, with BHP Billiton /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -0.63% down 0.7% and Newcrest down 2.2% after commodity prices fell Friday night.
Mumbai's Bombay Sensex extended early falls to trade 4% lower at 15716.46 late in the day. Technology and banking shares led the decliners.
In currencies, the dollar was trading at ¥99.72, down from ¥100.00 in late Friday in New York. The euro rose to US$1.5781 from US$1.5760.
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