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Tokyo claws back from 20-year low

By Alex Frew McMillan

Japan's Nikkei hit a 20-year low in morning trade, but players say state pension funds started buying stock

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Most Asian stocks closed down again on Thursday, though Japanese stocks rebounded from 20-year lows to end higher.

Asian investors woke to pessimism over the global political picture and another decline on Wall Street.

Japan's Nikkei bounced back in afternoon trade to end up 0.03 percent to 8,359.38, but still stands near a 20-year low.

Japanese stocks were also hurt by the weakening dollar, which is driving the value of the yen up and hitting profits for exporters.

The Nikkei average fell below 8,300 in morning trade, under its 20-year low close of 8,303 in November. Its 20-year intraday low of 8,197 dates to October last year.

The broader Topix also turned from a loss to end up 0.1 percent to 819.20 as bank stocks recovered.

Declines for rest of region

Hong Kong, the region's second-biggest market after Tokyo, also locked in a rise, putting on 0.2 percent.

Big exporters such as Toyota felt the pressure of the yen, at a six-month high against the dollar

But there were losses for the rest of the Asia Pacific, with South Korean stocks facing the heaviest selling, afternoon buying not enough to ward off a 1.3 percent fall.

Australia was down just over 1 percent, while Taiwan was half a percent lower. New Zealand closed just in the red.

Singapore is just below par heading to the close but recovering, with neighboring Malaysia edging into the black.

Wall Street made it two down days out of three on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 1.3 percent to 7,806.98 and Nasdaq giving up 1.9 percent to 1,303.68. (U.S. roundup)

Yen pressure in Tokyo

In Tokyo, the market was under currency pressure. The yen stands at 117.10 to the U.S. dollar at the end of the Asian day, having hit a six-month strong point of 116.90. The dollar has been weakening ahead of likely war with Iraq.

hong kong
Hong Kong registered a gain as the city prepares to welcome more skilled workers from mainland China

That knocked exporters such as Sony Corp., down 0.67 percent to 4,470 yen, and Toyota Motor, off 0.71 percent to 2,805 yen.

Big shippers of goods see their prices go up as the yen advances, while their profits shrink when sent back to Japan.

Bank stocks surged in afternoon trade, accounting for the change in Tokyo's fortunes. Mizuho Holdings closed up 3.0 percent to 103,000 yen, having posted losses at lunch.

The world's biggest bank by assets was rattled Wednesday when one of its borrowers, theme park operator Huis Ten Bosch, become one of Japan's biggest resort bankruptcies. (Full story)

Bank rival UFJ Holdings shot up 7.41 percent to 145,000 yen, while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group closed flat at 287,000 yen after showing losses of 3.5 percent at noon.

Cell-phone service KDDI rose 1.37 percent to 370,000 yen, and advertising giant Dentsu was up 2.21 percent, also to 370,000 yen.

Hong Kong also rallied from the red to close up, the Hang Seng adding 0.2 percent to 9,134.24.

Bank stock HSBC closed marginally higher, up 0.30 percent to HK$83.50.

There were also gains for Hong Kong-focused stocks after the city unveiled a plan to ease restrictions on skilled workers moving in from mainland China.

That drove housing developer and subway operator MTR Corp. up 1.17 percent to HK$8.65, while developer Cheung Kong Holdings added 1.24 percent to HK$49.00.

Oil producer CNOOC moved forward again as war looms in the Persian Gulf. CNOOC closed up 1.9 percent to HK$10.70.

Earnings drive Sydney

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 1.09 percent to 2,796.2, a new three-year low close.

Telecom company Telstra Corp. topped the volume with a 2.4 percent fall to A$4.08, as Australia's second-largest listing posted a 44 percent drop in first-half profit, though it increased its dividend. (Full story)

Qantas Airways dropped 4.2 percent to A$3.16, with fuel prices rising with oil. No. 1 listing, media group News Corp., dropped 2.7 percent to A$10.10 on shaky peace prospects around the world.

Australia's biggest fund manager and life insurer, AMP, ended down 6 percent to A$7.25, another record low, after it posted an A$896 million loss this week. (Full story)

Mining giant BHP Billiton fell 1.29 percent to A$9.18, though there were gains for its BHP Steel spinoff, up 1.5 percent to A$3.48 after unveiling a first-half profit at the top of forecasts.

New Zealand's Top 40 closed down 0.08 percent at 1,873.87, with Telecom New Zealand steady at NZ$4.26.

Taiwan's Topix was off 0.54 percent to 4,432.46, a fresh four-month low. The tech subindex was down 0.93 percent after Nasdaq dropped.

Singapore's economy grew for the year, averting recession, but at a very slow pace

Chip foundry TSMC was down 1.87 percent to T$42.00, though rival UMC ended steady at T$19.70.

China Steel topped the volume with a 2.26 percent slip to T$21.60.

South Korea's Kospi closed off 1.32 percent to 582.46, on security worries as North Korea started up a nuclear reactor.

Cell-phone service SK Telecom ended off 2.91 percent to 167,000 won, while retailer Shinsegae lopped off 3.37 percent to 157,500 won.

Korea's largest lender, Kookmin Bank, fell 4.4 percent to 37,900 won, reflecting concerns about Korea's domestic economy.

Singapore's Straits Times index is only slightly lower, down 0.1 percent to 1,285.81, as the city reports growth of 2.2 percent for the year. (Full story)

DBS Group is down 1.02 percent to S$9.70. Rival bank OCBC is off 1.12 percent to S$8.85. Fears of waning tourism are driving Singapore Airlines down 1.05 percent to S$9.45.

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