Asian markets ended mixed, with Tokyo falling on weakness in property and electronics stocks while brokerages and banks boosted Shanghai and Seoul.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Index dropped 1.27% to 12945.30 points on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The index lost 1.05% the day before. Stubborn worries over sizzling commodity prices also damped enthusiasm for stocks, analysts said.
"There is growing concern among investors that rising material costs will hurt companies' bottom lines," said Tsuyoshi Nomaguchi, strategist at Daiwa Securities. He added that weakness in U.S. consumer spending, as suggested by a cut in United Parcel Service's first-quarter earnings guidance, is another bad sign for market sentiment.
Electronics shares, which rely on exports, were battered by a sharp appreciation in the yen. The dollar fell as low as ¥100.73, down from ¥102.04 in New York late Wednesday. Fanuc /zigman2/quotes/202054799/delayed JP:6954 +0.70% fell 6.2% while Casio /zigman2/quotes/202492162/delayed JP:6952 +1.36% dropped 3.5%. Elpida Memory lost 3.8%.
Property companies extended their losses into a third day, partly on negative sentiment triggered by Credit Suisse's rating cuts for the sector. Sumitomo Realty & Development /zigman2/quotes/206628792/delayed JP:8830 -0.36% slid 3.4% and Mitsui Fudosan /zigman2/quotes/205394574/delayed JP:8801 +0.17% declined 3.6%.
The dollar tumbled against most regional currencies after Singapore's central bank reset its currency's trading band to a higher level. The dollar traded at ¥100.92 midafternoon in Tokyo, down from ¥102.04 late Wednesday in New York. The euro rose to US$1.5846 from US$1.5828. Also Thursday, China's currency breached a new milestone, as the U.S. dollar bought less than seven yuan for the first time in over a decade. (See related article .)
Meanwhile, coal miners and brokerage firms led mainland China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks both Class A and Class B shares, 1.7% higher to 3471.74.
Coal miners were boosted after China Coal Energy said Wednesday its 2007 net profit nearly doubled due to higher coal prices and increased output. China Coal, the country's second-largest coal producer by revenue, ended up 6.8%. China Shenhua Energy gained 3.3% and Yanzhou Coal Mining rose 7.1%.
Brokerage firms also rallied after Citic Securities said late Wednesday it expects its first-quarter net profit to more than double from a year earlier because of an expansion of its operations. Its stock halted trade in Shanghai Thursday because a shareholder meeting was in session, but Haitong Securities surged 9.9% and Changjiang Securities jumped 7.5%.
Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index tracked gains on mainland's exchanges to end 0.84% to 24187.10.
Local Chinese financial companies gained on bargain-hunting after two days of declines. Ping An Insurance /zigman2/quotes/210315058/delayed HK:2318 -2.39% rose 2.6% while China Life Insurance /zigman2/quotes/202359856/delayed HK:2628 -1.62% ended 1.9% higher. Bank of China /zigman2/quotes/204682472/delayed HK:3988 -1.47% picked up 2.5% and Bank of Communications /zigman2/quotes/203442771/delayed HK:3328 -0.92% advanced 1.5%. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China /zigman2/quotes/201401473/delayed HK:1398 -0.59% rose 1.5% after it said Thursday its first-quarter net profit rose more than 50% due to steady growth across all its businesses. Mobile giant China Mobile /zigman2/quotes/200868736/delayed HK:941 -3.50% ended 1.4% higher.
In Seoul, banks and some technology stocks helped the Korea Composite Stock Price Index recover from early losses to end up 0.6% at 1764.64. This came after the index seesawed throughout the day with market volatility increasing due to options expiry.
Bank stocks outperformed on attractive valuations, with Kookmin Bank ending up 1.1% while Shinhan Financial Group advanced 2.8%. Local chipmakers did well, too, on revived hopes of increased Dram chip prices. Hynix Semiconductor closed up 3% and Samsung Electronics climbed 1.6%. Bucking the overall market trend, LG Display ended off 1.5% because of Philips Electronics' plan to transfer its struggling North American TV operations to Funai Electric of Japan. Posco, the world's fourth-largest steelmaker, underperformed the broader market, ending down 2.2%.
Elsewhere, Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.3% to 5446.4 as modest falls on Wall Street outweighed gains in resources on commodity-price gains.
Financials had the biggest negative impact, with banks mostly down after ANZ /zigman2/quotes/205482049/delayed AU:ANZ +0.16% increased its bad debts provision Monday and property trusts fell on signs that the credit crunch was biting. Westpac /zigman2/quotes/203084975/delayed AU:WBC +0.05% fell 2.6%, Commonwealth Bank /zigman2/quotes/200638713/delayed AU:CBA +0.21% fell 1.8% and ANZ lost 1.9%. Among property trusts, Stockland /zigman2/quotes/206429402/delayed AU:SGP -1.10% fell 3.9%, Mirvac /zigman2/quotes/200366346/delayed AU:MGR -1.58% fell 5.8% and Macquarie Countrywide fell 4.0%
BHP /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP +1.06% closed up 0.2% after choppy trading following BHP's comments that it was not aware of any Chinese plan to buy a stake in the firm.
Singapore's Straits Times Index ended down 0.81% at 3064.60 and Mumbai's Sensex Index traded 0.13% higher at 15810.89 late in the day.
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