Asia stocks mixed after flat Wall Street trading

Asian stock markets mixed after Europe bank worries, strong yen stifle enthusiasm

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets were mixed Thursday, following flat trading on Wall Street as renewed worries over Europe's banking system and a strong yen weighed on investor sentiment.

Benchmark oil stayed above $103 per barrel while the dollar fell against the yen but rose against the euro.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.8 percent to 8,492.85, while South Korea's Kospi index was flat at 1,865.47. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.4 percent to 18,810.38. Australia's S&P ASX 200 fell 1.1 percent at 4,142.70.

Benchmarks in Singapore and Taiwan were higher while those in Malaysia and New Zealand were lower. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.

In Tokyo, the yen's rise against the euro elicited fears of more pain ahead for Japanese exporters. The euro sank to 98.71 yen on Monday in European trading, which Japan's Kyodo News said was an 11-year low. The euro remained under selling pressure as it hovered around 99 yen Thursday.

Japanese exporters feeling the pinch include Sony Corp., down 2.2 percent; Nissan Motor Corp., down 1.4 percent; and Ricoh Co. Ltd., off 3 percent.

On Wednesday, European markets declined after another increase in Italy's borrowing costs renewed worries about the continent's efforts to restore confidence in its debt-hobbled governments. Additionally, UniCredit — Italy's biggest bank — said it would offer stock at a 69 percent discount to raise cash. The size of the discount escalated worries about the state of Europe's banking sector.

Europe's unresolved debt woes are outweighing signs of better growth in the U.S.

"Market sentiment has not changed. It still remains cautious," said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. "Volume is still at a low level, which means money is not willingly going into the market."

Big financial institutions in Japan and Australia took hits. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. fell 1.2 percent, Mizuho Financial Group Inc. was down 0.9 percent and Nomura Holdings Inc. lost 2 percent. National Australia Bank Ltd. fell 1.9 percent.

In Australia, investors cashed in after two days of strong gains driven by a jump in metals and oil prices. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, lost 1.1 percent. Uranium miner Paladin Energy fell 2.8 percent and Newcrest Mining dropped 1.7 percent. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. lost 2.9 percent.

Stocks barely budged in the U.S. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 0.2 percent to close at 12,418.42. The Dow opened the year Tuesday with a 180-point gain that brought it to its highest level since July.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index inched up less than 0.1 percent to close at 1,277.30. The Nasdaq fell marginally to 2,648.36.

Benchmark oil for February delivery fell 16 cents to $103.05 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 26 cents to end at $103.22 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2919 from $1.2938 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar slipped to 76.72 yen from 76.75 yen.

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