Feb 23, 2013

Hong Kong - Asian markets mixed, European data weighs on sentiment

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HONG KONG: Asian markets were mixed on Friday with bargain-hunting offset by a weak lead from Wall Street and gloomy data out of the eurozone.

The euro and dollar rebounded slightly against the yen after suffering big losses in the past few days, while traders were casting an eye to a general election in Italy at the weekend.

Tokyo shed earlier losses to end up 0.68 percent, or 76.81 points, at 11,385.94, Sydney jumped 0.76 percent, or 38.0 points, to 5,018.1, and Seoul added 0.18 percent, or 3.67 points, to 2,018.89.

Shanghai ended down 0.51 percent, or 11.79 points, at 2,314.16 and Hong Kong lost 0.54 percent, or 124.23 points, to end at 22,782.44.

While dealers picked up cheap shares after Thursday's losses, sentiment remained subdued after minutes from the US Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting stoked fears it could end its huge monetary easing sooner than expected.

In afternoon Tokyo trade the US dollar sat at 93.25 yen, compared with 93.11 yen in New York Thursday.

However, the US unit -- which has gained about 17 percent against the yen since November -- is much weaker than the 94.00 yen seen at the start of the month.

The euro fetched 123.24 yen, against 122.81 yen in New York but well off the 125.50 yen seen on Monday.

The euro bought US$1.3214, against US$1.3188 in New York but compared with US$1.3350 on Monday.

The euro came under pressure after a leading eurozone growth indicator showed private business activity hit a two-month low in February.

The Purchasing Managers' Index published by London-based Markit fell to 47.3 in February from 48.6 the previous month.

The February figures contrasted sharply with an improvement in the previous three months, which saw it hit a 10-month high in January.

"The data in Europe confirmed the idea that the recovery in Europe is still a long way off," Matthew Sherwood, head of investment market research at Perpetual Investments in Sydney, told Dow Jones Newswires.

There is also nervousness about Sunday's Italian election, which is too close to call and could send the economy back into crisis if there is no clear winner.

Some fear a return of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, which could lead to the dismantling of recent economic reforms that have helped draw the country back from economic crisis.

On Wall Street the Dow was down 0.34 percent, the S&P 500 eased 0.63 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 1.04 percent after worse-than-expected US business activity data, while new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week.

Consumer prices also came in flat for a second month in a row in January, underscoring weak inflationary pressures in the world's number one economy.

In other markets:

Taipei fell 9.74 points, or 0.12 percent, to 7,947.72. TSMC fell 1.4 percent to Tw$105.5 while smartphone maker HTC was 0.36 percent lower at Tw$278.0.

Manila closed flat, edging down 2.35 points to 6,665.06. SM Investments fell 0.58 percent to 1,017 pesos while BDO Unibank dropped 1.74 percent to 90.40 pesos.

Wellington climbed 1.06 percent, or 44.18 points, to 4,214.60. Fletcher Building added 1.5 percent to NZ$8.68, Trade Me gained 1.7 percent to NZ$4.31 and Telecom surged 3.9 percent to NZ$2.29.

- AFP/ch

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