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Japan, Korea close in the red

Sony finished higher in Tokyo, but the broader market was down
Sony finished higher in Tokyo, but the broader market was down

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Asia stocks faltered in afternoon trade Wednesday, with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all closing in the red.

That came despite good gains among some technology issues, after Wall Street's strong showing on Tuesday.

Australia and New Zealand finished slightly higher. Hong Kong closed at 9427.63, up .33 percent, while Singapore was also trading in the black as it head towards the close.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 average made a postive start, opening 0.65 percent higher. But it soon slipped into the red and finished down 0.17 percent at 8,678.44.

The broader capital-weighted Topix index fell 0.36 percent to 853.59.

Big banks led the falls again, with UFJ Holdings down more than 8 percent and Mizuho Holdings off 6 percent.

The banks have taken a battering in recent days, as investors worry about the banks' bad loan positions ahead of the March 31 end of financial year book-closing.

The story was brighter for big exporters. Carmakers and consumer electronics leader Sony finished higher, with Nissan, Honda and Toyota all up about 1 percent and Isuzu Motors jumping 7 percent.

South Korea down

Elsewhere in the region, South Korea's Kospi gave up early gains to finish 0.43 percent lower at 600.83.

Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics was ahead 3 percent at one stage, before easing a little to post a gain of 1.37 percent at 297,000 won.

Taiwan finished with the day's biggest fall, down 1.18 percent.

Japanese technology stocks jumped at the opening Wednesday, led by issues such as Matsushita Electric after a strong Wall Street rally that saw the Dow Jones industrial average put on 1.67 percent and the Nasdaq add 2.78 percent. (Full story)

Big U.S. techs Intel Corp and Microsoft boosted the market there.

Mixed picture

In Korea, SK Telecom recovered some of the previous day's losses
In Korea, SK Telecom recovered some of the previous day's losses

Matsushita Electric finished 0.43 percent higher at 1160 yen, while Mitsubishi Electric put on 0.6 percent to 337 yen. But there was a mixed picture elsewhere.

Among chipmakers, NEC was off 1.72 percent to 460 yen and Toshiba fell 1.04 percent to 379 yen after a report they were extending their respective technology links with Chinese partners. (Full story)

Hitachi dipped 0.19 percent to 529 yen and Fujitsu slipped 3.12 percent to 342 yen.

Sony, Japan's biggest consumer electronics maker, rose 1.29 percent to 4,720 yen, while NTT DoCoMo, the biggest stock by market capitalization, fell 1.24 percent to 239,000 yen.

But it was the banks which registered the heaviest falls. UFJ lost 8.38 percent to 153,000 yen, Mizuho slipped 6.06 percent to 124,000 yen and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMFG) fell 3.5 percent to 331,000 yen.

SMFG has now lost 18 percent in the past three trading days. On Monday it said it would boost its capitalization through the issue of $2.5 billion in preferred stock to overseas investors.

On the currency front, the yen was at 119.01 to the U.S. dollar late in the Asian day.

It has strengthened more than 1 percent against the dollar, after Japanese Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa said currency values would not be discussed at an upcoming Group of Seven meeting.

News, BHP higher

In other Asian markets, Australia's S&P/ASX200 finished 0.7 percent higher at 2864.7.

Market heavyweight News Corp led the way with a gain of 2.77 percent to A$11.13.

Qantas Airways, which is expected to show a doubling of interim net profit when it reports Thursday, put on 1.33 percent to $3.80.

Resources leader BHP Billiton rose 2.84 percent to A$9.42 and Rio Tinto closed 1.67 percent ahead at A$33.50.

Big some of the big banks were weaker, with ANZ off about 1 percent to A$16.20 and CBA down 0.7 percent to A$24.31.

Oil and gas producer Santos fell 1.17 percent to A$5.92 after posting a 28 percent fall in net profit. (Full story)

In New Zealand, the NZSE Top 40 closed 0.52 percent higher at 1,953.85, with Telecom New Zealand down 0.88 percent to NZ$4.50.

In South Korea, SK Telecom recovered some of the ground lost Tuesday following a probe into executive stock trades. It put on 0.58 percent to 172,000 won.

Cho Hung Bank jumped early, then eased to finish with a gain of 0.82 percent at 3.700 yen.

Losers included steelmaker Posco, down 1.29 percent to 115,000 yen, and big exporter Hyundai Motor, off 2.37 percent to 26,750.

In Taiwan, the Taiex lost 1.18 percent to 4,550.83 after showing early optimism on the strength of the U.S. Nasdaq's overnight gain.

The market's biggest stock, chip foundry TSMC, managed to hang onto a small rise, closing 0.23 percent higher at T$43.00.

But smaller rival UMC fell 1.48 percent to T$20.00, while Acer also slipped back into the red. Hon Hai Precision finished unchanged at T$110.50.

China Steel down

Among industrials, China Steel fell 3.02 percent to T$22.50, reversing the previous day's gains.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index is up 0.37 percent at 9,432.03. Banking leader HSBC is about a third of a percent higher.

Other blue chips are generally steady, with most gains limited to less than 1 percent. China Mobile and China Unicom are both up about 0.9 percent.

In Singapore, the Straits Times index is about half a percent higher near the close, at 1,301.03.

SingTel is up 0.76 percent to S$1.33, banking leader DBS is ahead 1 percent to S$10.20 and Singapore Airlines is down 1 percent to S$9.65.

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