Asian stocks end lower on war fears
By Alex Frew McMillan
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Asian stocks closed lower Thursday, with investors still taking defensive positions as war with Iraq seems likely.
Japan's Nikkei average ended the day down 0.77 percent to 8,484.19, while the broader Topix fell 0.63 percent to 839.95, ending a three-day run of gains.
Taiwan, back from a long holiday break, notched up the region's biggest fall with a drop of 3.6 percent, while South Korea was off 1.86 percent.
Australia dipped more than 1 percent and Hong Kong finished down 0.6 percent. New Zealand's market was closed Thursday for a holiday.
Singapore ended very slightly in the red, and Malaysia closed down just over half a percent as Asian trade ended.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented evidence of alleged Iraqi weapons violations to the United Nations on Wednesday, making the case that war was the only way to force the country to disarm.
Iraqi officials have dismissed the allegations, saying Powell's presentation relied on "stunts" and "special effects."
U.S. stocks fell slightly after Powell's address. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.35 percent to 7,985.18, while Nasdaq dipped 0.36 percent to 1,301.50. (U.S. roundup)
Tokyo adrift on war tension
In Tokyo on Thursday, tech stocks drifted as investors factored in the effects of a war on global trade. Cell-phone service NTT DoCoMo, the largest listing, fell 1.29 percent to 230,000 yen.
Circuit maker Kyocera was one of the main losers with a 3.14 percent fall to 6,470 yen. Sony was off 0.64 percent to 4,660 yen.
Japan Telecom finished down 4.69 percent to 366,000 yen after large gains Wednesday, as Vodafone said it is considering selling its fixed-line business to a U.S. buyout fund. (Full story)
Toyota Motor closed flat at 2,965 yen, after the company posted net income of 216.1 billion ($1.8 billion) for the December quarter, almost double the same time last year. (Full story)
Big bank Mizuho Holding rose 2.48 percent to 124,000 yen and UFJ was up 1.36 percent to 149,000.
The yen is firmer at 119.95 to the dollar in late Asian trade.
"With the war with Iraq coming closer by the day, any dollar gains should be used to sell at better prices," Cornelius Luca, currency analyst with Global Forex Trading, said.
Hang Seng lagging
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended off 0.59 percent at 9,126.15, a four-month low, with blue chips broadly down.
Bank stock HSBC gave up 0.61 percent to HK$81.75 with the global economic picture looking murky.
PCCW ended flat at HK$6.05 on a bumpy day's trade. The company sold off at first on a report -- that the company denied -- that it made a bid to buy British telecom Cable & Wireless last month but was turned back.
Hongkong Electric enjoyed a second day of gains, up 0.51 percent to HK$29.30, with investors moving to utilities. Subway operator MTR Corp. added 0.59 percent to HK$8.55.
Big caps down in Sydney
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 1.11 percent to 2,886.2, its lowest close since the inception of the index in April 2000. Its record intraday low is 2,883.5 on October 10 last year.
Big caps were down in broad market weakness, with heavyweight media group News Corp. off 1.1 percent to A$10.80 and Telstra giving up 0.68 percent to A$4.39.
Big banks NAB, ANZ, CBA and Westpac all fell sharply. Fund manager and insurer AMP dropped 3.56 percent to another record low of A$8.67.
Gold stocks eased after bullion receded from its near seven-year high of $390 an ounce.
There were advances for miner Rio Tinto, up 0.64 percent to A$32.95, and food group Goodman Fielder rose almost 3 percent to A$1.78 as Burns Philp proceeds with its buyout attempt.
Taiwan back in action with fall
In Taiwan, the Taiex tumbled 3.62 percent to 4,833.58 as the market resumed after a week-long holiday to usher in the Year of the Goat.
Market leader TSMC was down the daily 7 percent limit to T$44.40 as the chip foundry responded to Nasdaq's selling during that break.
Rival foundry UMC and other techs such as Hon Hai Precision and Quanta were also "limit down".
China Steel topped the volume as usual and closed 2.55 percent higher to T$24.10. Far Eastern Textile put on 3.55 percent to T$17.50, benefiting from higher prices and a recovery in Taiwan's economy.
Korean big caps down
South Korea's Kospi fell 1.86 percent to 589.50, led by selling in its electronics exporters.
Samsung Electronics, the largest listing in Seoul, dipped 2.75 percent to 283,000 won, with sales to the United States likely to be disrupted by any war.
SK Telecom fell 6.06 percent to 170,500 won as the cell-phone service said it would stick to its heavy capital spending plan for the year. (Full story)
LG Electronics dropped 4 percent to 37,900 won and department store Shinsegae was off 3.68 percent to 157,000 won.
Singapore, Malaysia down
Preliminary figures show that Singapore's Straits Times index ended down 0.12 percent at 1,290.28, largely shaking off the downward pressure.
Bank stock OCBC rose 0.56 percent higher at S$8.90, while industry peer UOB climbed 0.97 percent to S$10.40.
But the biggest bank, DBS Group, fell 0.98 percent to S$10.10, and Singapore Airlines closed down 2.03 percent to S$9.65.
Malaysian stocks were also down with the Kuala Lumpur composite off 0.48 percent to 664.95.
Cell-phone No. 2 Celcom said it had won approval from authorities for its merger with Telekom Malaysia's mobile arm. (Full story)