Investor Alert

Asia Markets

Jan. 7, 2005, 3:05 a.m. EST

Nikkei falls; other markets mostly slip

By Osamu Tsukimori, CBS MarketWatch.com

TOKYO (CBS.MW) - Japanese stock indexes closed down Friday as investors sold bank and tech stocks after recent gains, but losses were limited as some investors stayed on the sidelines ahead of U.S. jobs data later in the day.

The Nikkei Average ended down 59.02 points, or 0.5 percent, at 11,433.24, while the broader Topix fell 2.21 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,145.76.

Japanese markets will be closed Monday for a national holiday.

Tokyo stocks were mostly higher until midday, helped by a weaker yen early in the session, but they gradually lost ground, reflecting worsening U.S. investor sentiment, said Tsuyoshi Segawa, equity strategist at Shinko Securities in Tokyo.

U.S. payroll figures are forecast to have expanded by 186,000 in December, according to the average of a survey by CBS MarketWatch.

Even if the U.S. jobs data shows that nonfarm payrolls rose by a larger-than-expected 200,000 to 250,000, "that may not boost the U.S. market," Segawa said.

Instead, it might make investors nervous that the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates by 50 basis points rather than 25 basis points at its next meeting, he said.

The dollar rose 1.1 percent against the yen Thursday amid optimism that a strong December employment report could signal higher U.S. interest rates. See Currencies. But by late Friday afternoon, the dollar slipped to 104.55 yen, compared with 105.05 yen late Thursday in the United States.

Around the region, benchmarks were mostly lower.

Taiwan's Taiex index ended down 0.8 percent, while South Korea's Kospi index eased 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 1.9 percent as shares fell almost across the board.

Hong Kong-listed CNOOC (HKG:HK:883) was down 2.5 percent. China's third-largest oil and gas producer is considering a bid of more than $13 billion for US rival Unocal (NAS:UCL) , according to media reports. See related story.

China's Shanghai Composite closed up 0.4 percent, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.8 percent.

In Seoul, Samsung Electronics (OTC:SSNGY) rose 1.3 percent. South Korea's largest electronics maker said it has developed the world's first mobile phone capable of converting spoken words into text messages.

In Tokyo, Central Japan Railway (TKS:JP:9022) fell 0.6 percent. The government plans to sell all of its 886,000 shares, or 39.6 percent of outstanding stock, in the railroad operator on the stock market as early as fiscal 2005 for more than 700 billion yen, reports said.

The tech sector was mostly weaker, led by Hitachi (TKS:JP:6501) , which lost 1.8 percent.

But Sony Corp. (TKS:JP:6758) rose 1.5 percent. Microsoft Corp. (NAS:MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that it and Sony "have a lot of incentive to work together" for digital-music infrastructure, including online music services and copyright protection.

The auto sector was mostly higher. Nissan Motor (TKS:JP:7201) (OTC:NSANY) climbed 1.6 percent.

In the banking sector, all four major banks declined, led by UFJ Holdings , down 2.1 percent.

Crude oil for February delivery closed Thursday up $2.17, or 5 percent, at $45.56 a barrel in New York amid concern over a potential oil-workers strike in Venezuela. See Futures Movers.

In Sydney, oil and mining giant BHP Billiton (ASX:AU:BHP) (NYS:BHP) added 1.1 percent in line with the surge in crude oil prices.

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