Feb 23, 2013

Hong Kong - Asian markets mixed, yen claws back some losses

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HONG KONG: Asian markets were mixed on Friday, with Tokyo dragged by a further strengthening in the yen, while the euro faced selling pressure following weak eurozone data.

Losses on Wall Street added to the gloom after disappointing US economic figures, while traders were casting an eye to a general election in Italy at the weekend.

Tokyo fell 0.50 per cent by the break, Hong Kong lost 0.85 per cent and Shanghai was off 0.16 per cent, but Sydney jumped 1.26 per cent and Seoul added 0.23 per cent.

While some markets were lifted by bargain hunting, sentiment was still weak after minutes from the US Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting that stoked fears it could end its huge monetary easing sooner than expected.

Japan's Nikkei was weighed as the yen rose against the dollar and euro, clawing back some of the massive losses it has seen in recent months.

In early Tokyo trade the dollar sat at 93.04 yen, compared with 93.11 yen in New York Thursday. However, the Japanese unit -- which has lost about 17 per cent against the greenback since November -- is much stronger than the 94.00 yen seen at the start of the month.

And the euro fetched 122.78 yen, against 122.81 yen, and well off the 125.50 yen earlier in the week.

The euro bought $1.3189, against $1.3188 in New York Thursday and well short of the $1.3350 on Monday.

The euro came under increased 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.

There is nervousness about Sunday's Italian election, which is too close to call and which markets have warned 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 per cent, the S&P 500 eased 0.63 per cent and the Nasdaq dropped 1.04 per cent 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.

Meanwhile, traders are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of progress in Washington on a deal to avert the sequester, deep government spending cuts economists say will slow US growth.

Oil prices rose, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April gaining 17 cents to $93.01 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April adding 17 cents to $113.70.

Gold was at $1,581.30 at 0247 GMT, compared with $1,568.41 late Thursday.

- AFP/ck

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