Asia stocks stagnate amid uncertain global economy

Asian stock markets stagnate as traders weigh prospects of global economic slowdown

Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) -- Asian stock markets drifted in lackluster trading Monday as investors evaluated the prospects of a global economic slowdown.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.3 percent to 10,038.71 as the yen slipped against the dollar, helping the country's powerhouse export sector. Markets elsewhere had a tepid start to the week after reports in China and Europe last week pointed to a likely slowdown in those economies.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was flat at 20,673.44 but property companies rebounded as investors shook off worries that the social reform policies promised by the city's next leader would hurt home prices.

South Korea's Kospi index fell 0.5 percent to 2,015.69. Australia's S&P ASX/200 rose less than 0.1 percent to 4,271.50. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia also fell. New Zealand and mainland China were higher.

"The market is still lacking positive catalysts," said Jackson Wong, a vice president at Tanrich Securities, who noted that investors are hanging back as they await market-moving news.

Germany is set to release later Monday its monthly index of business confidence, a closely watched indicator for Europe's biggest economy. Earnings reports by Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., controlled by Hong Kong's richest man, Li Ka-shing, are due Thursday.

Commodity-sector companies rose as the dollar weakened. Since commodities are priced in dollars, a weaker dollar makes them cheaper for traders who use other currencies. Jiangxi Copper Co. added 2 percent in Hong Kong. Energy Resources of Australia gained 1.9 percent.

Shares of Qantas Airways Ltd. rose 2.6 percent in Sydney after it announced plans to set up a Hong Kong-based discount airline with China Eastern Airlines Co.

Shares of China Construction Bank, one of China's four major state-owned lenders, fell 0.7 percent in Hong Kong even after reporting 2011 profit rose 25.5 percent despite government-imposed credit curbs and slowing economic growth.

Chinese auto and battery maker BYD Co. fell 5.6 percent in Hong Kong after it reported 2011 profit fell by nearly half as the country's booming auto sales slowed and competition intensified.

Big Hong Kong property developers rebounded on hopes that social reform policies espoused by Leung Chun-ying, who was selected Sunday to be Hong Kong's next chief executive and pledged to expand public housing, would not bring down house prices. New World Development Co. rose 4.8 percent, Sino Land Co. was up 4.3 percent and Henderson Land Co. climbed 2.8 percent.

"We reiterate our view that general property prices will not fall substantially on the simple theme of Leung taking office," Citigroup analysts said in a report.

The Dow closed up 0.3 percent at 13,080.73 Friday as investors shrugged off a Commerce Department report that sales of new homes fell 1.6 percent last month. Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.3 percent to 1,397.11. The Nasdaq composite climbed 0.1 percent to 3,067.92.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down 26 cents to $106.56 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract was up $1.52 to end at $106.87 per barrel in New York on Friday.

The euro weakened to $1.3254 from $1.3263 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 82.70 yen from 82.49 yen.

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