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Volatile Asian markets fall

A late rally on Wall Street helped boost the Nikkei initially.
A late rally on Wall Street helped boost the Nikkei initially.

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TOKYO, Japan -- Asian markets closed lower Thursday after a volatile day that saw big swings in Japan and South Korea.

While Tokyo was cheered by Wall Street's modest rise and prospects of a stock support package from the government, its enthusiasm waned as the day wore on.

The Nikkei 225 average broke above the 8000-point mark at one juncture, but finished 0.94 percent lower at 7868.56, just six points above the 20-year closing low set on Tuesday.

South Korea, which dropped more than 3 percent on corporate jitters involving the SK Group, recovered to end the day virtually flat, off 0.01 percent at 531.78. That was still a 17-month low.

Taiwan was the only market to show any strength, putting on 1.17 percent. Australia lost 0.66 percent to reach a fresh four-year low and New Zealand dropped just over 1 percent.

Hong Kong ended the day just short of one percent down, dropping 87.54 points to end at 8,787.45 -- the lowest close since the peak of the Asian financial crisis in October 1998.

Singapore meanwhile was down about 0.4 percent lower in late trade.

Package

New recruits are joining retailers Seven-Eleven and Ito-Yokado.
New recruits are joining retailers Seven-Eleven and Ito-Yokado.

In Tokyo, the broader Topix index gave up 0.49 percent to 778.52. The market is waiting a plan to be unveiled late Thursday that will outline measures to support stock prices, including a call on the central Bank of Japan (BOJ) to buy more shares held by banks.

The BOJ has already said it will buy two trillion yen ($17 billion) of stocks held by Japanese banks to help trim their massive shareholdings and reduce their vulnerability to market swings.

The big banks shared in the few gains to be had Thursday, with Mizuho Financial Group finishing up 5.66 percent at 112,000 yen on the first day of trading in its new listing.

Mizuho on Wednesday canceled a planned overseas share sale and has turned instead to domestic investors for 1.1 trillion yen ($9.4 billion) of funding.

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group put on 0.9 percent to 223,000 yen. At one stage it was up 4.07 percent to 230,000 yen after touching a lifetime low of 206,000 yen during Wednesday trade.

UFJ Holdings finished flat at 129,000 yen and MTFG eased 0.21 percent to 465,000 yen.

Retailer Seven-Eleven gained 2.7 percent to 3040 yen as it enters the staff recruiting season.

The market's biggest stock, NTT DoCoMo, lost 2.33 percent to 210,000 yen.

Some of the country's biggest exporters, including consumer electronics leader Sony and automakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda, finished lower.

South Korean woes

The downturn in Tokyo followed a relatively stronger day on Wall Street Wednesday, where the Dow Jones industrial average put on 0.37 percent to 7552.07 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite rose 0.61 percent to 1279.24. (Full story)

But the story was different in Europe, where markets again finished at fresh six-year lows on Wednesday. ( Full story)

In South Korea on Thursday, the woes of the big conglomerate SK Group continued to be a drag on the Kospi.

Trading company SK Global, which is at the center of an accounting scandal, fell for the fifth straight day, dropping 15 percent to 3775 won. It also said it had cut its stake in SK Telecom to 4.2 percent.

Despite its links to the SK Group, SK Telecom showed some resilience, closing up 4.56 percent to 149,000 won after Tuesday's 12 percent fall.

Hyundai Motor and steelmaker Posco also firmed, but the market's biggest stock, Samsung Electronics, ended unchanged at 290,000 won.

In Taiwan, the Taiex put on 1.17 percent to 4378.99, with chip foundry TSMC jumping 2.56 percent to T$44.10. Rival UMC rose 1.54 percent to T$19.80.

Most moves among tech and industrial stocks were muted. Taiwan Cement rose 3.77 percent to T$12.40.

In Hong Kong, HSBC and other big banks ended marginally lower, as did the big telecoms companies such as PCCW.

Among the blue chips Citic Pacific was virtually the only gainer, up 4.14 percent to HK$16.35 after announcing at 85 percent surge in earnings for 2002. Johnson Electric, meanwhile, which relies heavily on the U.S. market, closed down 4.57 percent to end at HK$8.35.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX200 fell 0.66 percent to 2700.4 to again set a four-year low.

Investors were mulling an outline of Australia's position on Iraq given by Prime Minister John Howard Thursday afternoon. ( Full story)

Market heavyweight News Corporation rose 2.31 percent to A$9.74, reflecting the gains on U.S. markets.

Mining giant BHP Billiton lost 1.03 percent to A$8.68 after committing $327 million on Wednesday to a Caribbean oil field. ( Full story)

Most of the big banks also closed lower.

But insurer and funds manager AMP continued to recover from its record low of A$5.90 on Tuesday, putting on 4.71 percent to A$6.45.

Across the Tasman, New Zealand's NZSE Top 50 index fell 1.04 percent to 1874.06. Telecom New Zealand dropped 2.58 percent to NZ$4.16.

In Singapore, the Straits Times index was 0.4 percent lower at 1228.56 in late trade. Singapore Airlines and SingTel were both higher, but banks DBS, OCBC and UOB were all lower.


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