Asia stocks fall amid Greek debt deal doubts

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer
Markets cautious as Greece presses on with reforms

Money traders work at a foreign exchange firm in Tokyo Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. The U.S. dollar rose to the 80-yen mark Wednesday for the first time since Aug. 4 in midday Tokyo time. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets were mostly lower Thursday as investors fretted over the details of a deal to save Greece from financial collapse and preserve its place among nations that use the euro. Japan bucked the trend as the yen weakened, boosting exporter shares.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1 percent to 21,337.54 and South Korea's Kospi lost 1.1 percent to 2,005.47. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.3 percent to 4,279.10. Benchmarks in Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan were also lower.

But Japan's 225 Nikkei added nearly 0.1 percent to 9,562.51 as the dollar traded near a seven-month high against the yen. That's a positive sign for Japan's powerhouse exporters, which have struggled amid a prolonged period of strength in the yen.

Investors remained worried that a $170 billion bailout for Greece announced Tuesday would not be enough to keep the debt-laden country from eventually defaulting.

Greece is entering its fifth year of recession. Fitch ratings agency downgraded Greece further into junk status Wednesday, to a rating of C, one notch above default.

Greece says the bailout, plus an agreement it hopes to secure from investors to take losses on Greek government bonds, will keep it in the so called eurozone.

"No one expects anything exciting. After the markets rallied so much, people took some money off the table," said Derek Cheung, chief investment officer at Neutron INV Partners Ltd. in Hong Kong. "People expect that all the positive news is out already, so the markets have become more normal."

Wall Street was lower Wednesday, a day after the Dow Jones industrial average hit 13,000 for the first time in nearly four years. Analysts said investors are sifting through conflicting signals about the U.S. economy, Chinese growth and the longevity of the euro in deciding whether to buy or sell.

"Equity markets globally now seem to have reached an interesting inflection point, having gotten off to a great start to the year," said Cameron Peacock of IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia.

Investors are trying to determine whether recent highs on Wall Street would "trigger a bout of profit taking or serve as a catalyst for a new wave of money to come into the market," he said in a report. "At this stage the verdict appears evenly divided."

Japan's crucial export sector benefited from a weakening yen, which boosts repatriated profits and makes Japanese products cheaper overseas. Fujitsu Ltd. jumped 3.8 percent, while Sharp Corp. rose 2.2 percent and Nintendo Co. added 1.6 percent.

But Mazda Motor Corp. plummeted 6.8 percent after the struggling car maker said it will raise about $2 billion from selling new shares to invest in assembly plants and developing new vehicle technologies.

South Korean high-tech shares struggled a day after Hewlett-Packard Co. said earnings in the latest quarter fell 44 percent, while revenue was down 7 percent.

Samsung Electronics Co. tumbled 3.5 percent while LG Electronics lost 4.9 percent.

In the U.S., the Dow fell 0.1 percent to close at 12,938.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 0.3 percent to 1,357.66. The Nasdaq composite slipped 0.5 percent to 2,933.17.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 48 cents to $105.80 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 3 cents to finish at $106.28, the highest since May, in New York on Wednesday.

In currency trading, the dollar slipped to 80.09 yen. On Wednesday in New York, the greenback reached 80.24 yen — a seven-month high that came a week after the Bank of Japan announced a surprise increase in its economic stimulus program. The yen has been falling against the dollar ever since the announcement.

The euro rose to $1.3263 from $1.3244.