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Asia finds relief in flat day

By Alex Frew McMillan

huis ten bosch
Mizuho suffered after the failure of its borrower Huis Ten Bosch Co., operator of this Dutch-themed park

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Asian stocks ceased their selling on Wednesday as investors regained their composure a day after North Korea's shock missile test.

Most markets traded close to par, giving back morning gains that were prompted by Wall Street's rise overnight.

Japan's Nikkei average, which fell more than 2 percent on Tuesday, closed basically flat, down 0.04 percent to 8,356.81.

The broader Topix also finished negligibly in the red, down 0.1 percent to 818.38.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was visiting Seoul at the time of the test, said the antiship missile appeared to be an older weapon and played down the incident as "fairly innocuous."

South Korean stocks lost a third of a percent. But they were generally steady, arresting their plunge of more than 3 percent after Pyongyang's test.

Australian stocks put on 1 percent, and there were slight gains for Taiwan and New Zealand.

Hong Kong closed down 0.35 percent, with Singapore and Malaysian markets also slightly lower despite a gain for U.S. markets overnight.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.65 percent to 7,909.50, while Nasdaq rose 0.5 percent to 1,328.98. (U.S. roundup)

Tokyo breathes easier

On Wednesday in Tokyo, stocks gave up morning gains stemming from short selling and Wall Street's rally, which came despite a slump in consumer confidence. (Full story)

Japanese investors showed little ill effect despite hearing of another fall in retail sales. (Full story)

New government figures show that Japanese retail sales fell yet again

Exporters rallied despite the yen still standing strong at 117.42 to the U.S. dollar.

Sony Corp. closed up 0.9 percent to 4,500 yen after hitting a 16-month low Tuesday. Toyota Motor also rose, up 0.71 percent to 2,825 yen.

There were gains too for KDDI, Japan's No. 2 cell phone service, up 0.55 percent to 365,000 yen, though larger rival NTT DoCoMo closed down 0.44 percent at 227,000 yen.

There was heavy selling again for financials. Mizuho Holdings, the world's largest bank, fell 6.54 percent to 100,000 yen after a borrower, theme park manager Huis Ten Bosch Co., filed for bankruptcy.

The company managed a Dutch-themed park in Nagasaki prefecture but crumbled under 229 billion yen ($1.95 billion) in debt. (Full story)

Rival banks SMFG, down 4.33 percent to 287,000 yen, and UFJ Holdings, down 2.17 percent to 135,000 yen, tumbled as the end of the financial year on March 31 looms.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng eased 0.35 percent at 9,116.28 despite opening higher.

Bank stock HSBC, the largest listing, was down 0.60 percent to HK$83.25 ahead of its earnings next Monday.

Tuesday's main gainer, oil producer CNOOC, fell 1.40 percent to HK$10.55.

But there were continued advances for clothing retailer Esprit Holdings, up 1.30 percent to HK$15.55, after its recent 44 percent leap in first-half profits.

Property stocks were mixed, with Henderson Land clinging to gains.

Big caps nudge Sydney ahead

AMP chief Andrew Mohl said shareholders were right to feel disappointed after heavy losses in 2002
AMP chief Andrew Mohl said shareholders were right to feel disappointed after heavy losses in 2002

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 1.00 percent to 2,826.9, with big caps such as News Corp. and Qantas Airways advancing.

Telstra Corp. forged forward almost four percent to A$4.18 as it prepares to report half-year earnings on Thursday.

Bionic ear maker Cochlear was one of the strongest performers, up 2.16 percent to A$33.04.

Australia's biggest fund manager and life insurer, AMP, fell over 5 percent to A$7.47, a record low, before recovering to end down 2.6 percent at A$7.71.

The company said Tuesday its chairman had retired five months ahead of schedule and warned of an uncertain year ahead. (Full story)

Wine producer Southcorp continued its selling after disappointing earnings, down 5 percent to A$3.38, its lowest close since 1996. (Full story)

New Zealand's Top 40 closed up 0.26 percent to 1,875.38, with Telecom New Zealand moving ahead 0.47 percent to NZ$4.26.

In Taiwan, the Taiex ended near par, up just 0.05 percent to 4,456.69 but recovering from almost a two-month low.

Small tech stocks provided the gains after Nasdaq's climb in the United States. But big caps such as TSMC, down 0.47 percent to T$42.80, and UMC, down 0.51 percent to T$19.70, were sluggish.

On the industrial front, China Steel fell 1.34 percent to T$22.10.

South Korea's Kospi stopped its selling after a sharp knock on Tuesday. The index ended down 0.34 percent to 590.26 after a higher open.

Chipmaker Samsung Electronics, the largest listing, fell 1.90 percent to 284,000 won after Hyundai brokerage forecast a decline in chip prices. The company says it will raise chip spending. (Full story)

The No. 2 listing in Seoul, cell-phone service SK Telecom, was up 1.78 percent to 172,000 won.

Singapore's Straits Times index is down 0.16 percent to 1,288.35 in late trade, with DBS Group continuing to slip.

Southeast Asia's largest bank is off 0.51 percent to S$9.85.

Malaysia's market is also lower, the Kuala Lumpur composite trading off 0.57 percent to 649.41.

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