Asia stock markets slip as buying fervor cools

Asian stock markets slip as buying fervor cools despite China data showing manufacturing gains

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets edged lower Thursday as buying fervor cooled following a string of strong gains.

Benchmark oil slipped to nearly $107 per barrel while the dollar fell against the yen but remained steady against the euro.

After a higher opening, Japan's Nikkei 225 index faded 0.3 percent to 9,690.03. The benchmark closed at 9,723.24 on Wednesday, its highest level since Aug. 2.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.7 percent to 4,268.90 after falling metals prices caused materials shares to slump. Benchmarks in India and Indonesia also fell. Markets in South Korea were closed for a public holiday.

Mainland China shares Chinese held on to gains after Chinese manufacturing improved for the third month in a row in a sign of renewed strength in the global economy, but Hong Kong endured a sell-off.

The Hang Seng, which hit a seven-month high Wednesday, fell 0.5 percent to 21,569.71 as property shares faced a pounding after the Shanghai government announced that — contrary to earlier reports — property restrictions would not be eased on purchases of second homes.

"What you are seeing is that the market is overbought, and the market has advanced beyond its fundamentals, so there needs to be a correction, a consolidation, to digest all the gains since last October," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong-listed Evergrande Real Estate Group Ltd. plunged 5.7 percent and China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd. tumbled 4.7 percent. China Resources Land Ltd. lost 4.5 percent.

China's state-affiliated Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said its purchasing managers index, or PMI, rose 0.5 points to 51.0 in February, the third straight month of steady improvement and its strongest reading since June 2011.

The federation said export orders expanded for the first time since August, amid recent improvement in the U.S. economy and some signs of stabilization in Europe despite its debt crisis.

In New York on Wednesday, stocks opened higher after the government said that the economy grew faster at the end of last year than previously estimated — at a 3 percent annual rate, which was the best reading since the spring of 2010.

But stocks turned negative after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before lawmakers that the economy performed better than expected in recent months, making it appear less likely that the Fed will begin another round of bond-buying to juice the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.4 percent to close at 12,952.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 0.5 percent to close at 1,365.68. The Nasdaq composite average fell 0.7 percent to 2,966.89.

The dollar soared and precious metals plunged after Bernanke's remarks. Investors tend to buy the metals as insurance against a weak dollar and against inflation. Bernanke's remarks suggested that both of those scenarios were less likely.

"No one person has more ability to move global financial markets than the US Federal Reserve Chairman. And so it was the case last night with Ben Bernanke speaking before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington," Cameron Peacock, market analyst with IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia said in an email.

"The ramifications for the commodity complex were also significant, with base metals selling off sharply, oil continuing its pullback from recent highs and gold getting slammed," he said.

Gold plunged $77 per ounce Wednesday, the biggest one-day drop since September, as traders dialed back their expectations that the dollar would be weakened by another round of economic stimulus from the Fed.

Lower metals prices hurt Australia's mining stocks. BHP Billiton Ltd. fell 1.6 percent. Rival Rio Tinto Ltd. dropped 2 percent. Newcrest Mining Ltd. shed 3 percent.

Shares of Elpida Memory Inc. jumped 14.2 percent, a day after Taiwan said it would keep pushing for the consolidation of its memory chip makers with Elpida.

The company, Japan's only chipmaker to specialize in memory chips used in mobile phones and computers, filed for bankruptcy protection Monday after being pummeled by dropping prices, fierce competition and flooding in Thailand.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 9 cents to $106.98 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 52 cents to settle at $107.07 a barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currency trading, the dollar fell to 80.92 yen from 81.18 yen late Wednesday in New York. The euro was unchanged at $1.3337.

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