The major markets across the Asia-Pacific region ended mixed on Wednesday following a weaker closing on Wall Street, where the major indices declined on disappointing retail sales data and a weak producer prices report. While the markets in Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan ended lower, the markets in China, Hong Kong and Singapore recouped their early losses and ended in positive territory on expectations that China might announce another stimulus to help revive the economy that is already showing signs of recovery.
The Commerce Department said that retail sales fell 1.1% month-over-month in March following an upwardly revised 0.3% increase in February. In another report, the Labor Department said that its producer price index fell 1.2% in March compared to economist estimates of a flat reading. Core producer prices, which exclude food and energy prices, were unchanged compared to the previous month.
However, better-than-expected financial results from Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson as well as positive comments by President Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke helped to limit the losses.
The Dow closed down 137.63 points or 1.7% at 7,920, the Nasdaq closed down 27.59 points or 1.7% at 1,626 and the S&P 500 closed down 17.23 points or 2.0% at 842.
After the markets closed on Wall Street, Intel Corp. reported a 55% drop in profit for the first quarter of 2009 on lower revenues and deteriorating margins. However, the earnings beat analysts' expectations.
Economic data released by the commerce ministry in China revealed that Foreign Direct Investment in to the country declined 9.5% during March, the sixth consecutive month of declines, as investors curtailed their spending amid global economic crisis. The Chinese Government will be releasing its GDP numbers for the first quarter of 2009 tomorrow.
In Asian trading, crude oil ended $0.01 down at $49.40 a barrel in electronic trading. Light sweet crude for May delivery dropped $0.64 to $49.41 a barrel on Tuesday amid choppy trading.
In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index declined 1.13% or 99.72 points to 8,743 and the broader Topix Index of all First Section Issues lost 8.17 points or 0.97% to 835.
Exporters declined after the local currency strengthened against the U.S dollar to less than 99 yen per US dollar. Canon dropped 2.57%, Sony lost 4.31% and Sharp fell 2.99%.
In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ, Japan's biggest bank, declined 2.98%, Mizuho Financial fell 2.04%, Sumitomo Mitsui lost 2.45% and Resona Holdings edged down 1.64%. Brokerage Nomura Holdings lost 7.73% on profit taking.
Among exporters, Construction machinery manufacturer Komatsu Ltd. said Tuesday that it would close down two domestic factories and a facility operated by a subsidiary to deal with the ongoing tepid demand. The company's stock fell 5.62%. Among automakers, Toyota ended unchanged from previous close, while Honda Motor slipped 0.73%.
In the oil sector, Inpex eased 0.55%, Nippon Oil lost 1.52% and Showa Shell fell 1.21%. Among trading houses, Mitsubishi Corp. ended down 0.66% and Itochu slipped 0.53%, but Sumitomo Corp. gained 0.64%.
In Australia, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index lost 5.4 points, or 0.14% to 3,748, and the broader All Ordinaries index dropped 4 points, or 0.11% to 3,694.
Banking stocks ended weaker. Commonwealth Bank of Australia edged down 0.82%, ANZ Banking Group lost 1.81%, and National Australia Bank fell 3.07%. Macquarie Group slipped 1.43% while Westpac Banking bucked the trend and edged up 0.17%.
In the resources sector, index leader BHP Billiton advanced 1.51% and Rio Tinto gained 1.08% ahead of its annual general meeting at London later today. Gold related stocks ended mixed following a decline in gold prices in Sydney. Lihir Gold lost 0.33%, but Sino Gold advanced 5.31% and Newcrest Mining gained 1.31%.
Energy stocks declined on lower oil prices. Woodside lost 1.12%, Santos edged down 0.59%, and Oil Search fell 0.75%.
In the retail sector, David Jones shed 0.65%, but Wesfarmers gained 1.64% , and Woolworths advanced 1.23%. Harvey Norman, which reported 3.6% rise in total sales for the nine-month period, remained unchanged from the previous close.
The benchmark Hang Seng Index recovered early losses and ended in positive territory with a gain of 0.57% or 88.46 points at 15,670.
Resource stocks and china-related stocks advanced while mixed trading was evident among financial stocks.
Aluminum Corporation of China, or CHALCO, rose 7.18%, PetroChina advanced 2.19% and CNOOC gained 3.30%.
China Unicom advanced 6.44%, China Mobile gained 4.80%, China Resources soared 8.99%, and China Shinhua added 3.61%.
Toy maker Li & Fung declined more than 10% on weaker retail sales data in the U.S. Li & Fung is the biggest supplier of clothing and toys to Wal Mart.
Among the financials, HSBC Holdings lost 1.17% and Bank of China fell 1.02%, while Bank of Communications edged up 0.47% and BOC Hong Kong gained 1.70%.
The benchmark KOSPI Index in South Korea lost 0.7% or 9.54 points to close at 1,333.
Financials ended lower. KB Financial Group lost 4.46%, Shinhan Financial declined 1.65% and Woori Finance fell 4.68%.
In the auto space, Hyundai Motor slipped 0.60%, Kia Motor declined 1.58%, and ]Ssangyong Motor fell 5.54%.
Technology stocks ended mixed. While Hynix Semiconductor lost 2.89% and LG Display fell 2.04%, LG Electronics advanced 1.97%. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics recovered early loss and ended higher by 1.74%.
Among the other major markets, China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 8.88 points, or 0.35% to 2,536, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite Index advanced 1.49% or 23.40 points to 1,594 and Singapore's Strait Times Index added 8.97 points, or 0.47% to 1,906. Taiwan's Weighted Index, however, lost 17.49 points, or 0.30% to 5,875.
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