The South Korean stock market on Wednesday wrote a finish to the four-day winning streak in which it added nearly 80 points or 2.6 percent. The KOSPI remained above support at 1,330 points, and now analysts are predicting that the market will remain in a tight range in that vicinity in Thursday's trade.
The global forecast for the Asian markets is mixed with a touch of upside, in spite of some contradictory economic and corporate data. A proposal from U.S. President Barack Obama to overhaul the tax system gave the markets a lift, helping Wall Street to finish in positive territory. The European bourses ended mostly weaker, and the Asian markets are expected to stay close to the unchanged line.
The KOSPI finished modestly lower on Wednesday, dragged to the downside by weakness among the financials, construction stocks and auto producers.
For the day, the index lost 9.54 points or 0.7 percent to close at 1333.09 after trading between 1,305.16 and 1,341.32. Volume was 798.2 million shares worth 8 trillion won.
Among the decliners, KB Financial Group lost 4.46 percent, while Shinhan Financial declined 1.65 percent, Woori Finance fell 4.68 percent, Hyundai Motor slipped 0.60 percent, Kia Motor declined 1.58 percent, Ssangyong Motor fell 5.54 percent, Hynix Semiconductor lost 2.89 percent, LG Display fell 2.04 percent and Hyundai Engineering & Construction declined 8.4 percent.
Finishing higher, LG Electronics advanced 1.97 percent and Samsung Electronics added 1.74 percent.
The lead from Wall Street is optimistic as stocks moved sharply higher at the close of trading on Wednesday after showing a lack of direction throughout much of the session. The major averages all closed in positive territory after turning in a mixed performance for most of the day. The choppy trading seen for most of the day came as traders digested a slew of economic reports as well as earnings news from some big-name companies.
On the economic front, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book report showed that overall economic activity has contracted further or remained weak, although it said five of the twelve Fed districts noted a moderation in the pace of decline. The Beige Book, a compilation of anecdotal evidence on economic conditions in each of the twelve Fed districts, also noted that several districts saw signs that activity in some sectors was stabilizing at a low level.
Earlier in the day, the Labor Department said its consumer price index fell 0.1 percent in March following a 0.4 percent increase the month before. The decline came as a surprise to economists, who had expected prices to edge up 0.1 percent. Excluding food and energy prices, the core consumer price index rose 0.2 percent for the third consecutive month. Economists had been expecting a 0.1 percent increase in core prices.
Separately, the Fed's industrial production report showed that production fell 1.5 percent in March, while capacity utilization dropped to 69.3 percent. Economists expected industrial production to decline 0.9 percent in March, while capacity utilization was expected to come in at 69.6 percent.
In corporate news, semiconductor giant Intel (INTC) reported first quarter earnings of $0.11 per share on revenues of $7.1 billion. While the results were down year-over-year, they exceeded analyst estimates of earnings of $0.03 per share on revenues of $6.98 billion. However, Intel disappointed investors by saying that was not providing a revenue outlook for the second quarter at this time due to economic uncertainty and limited visibility. Subsequently, shares of the semiconductor giant closed down 2.4 percent.
Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) announced an increase in its quarterly dividend to $0.44 per share from $0.40 per share on its common stock. The news drove the stock up 3.2 percent.
In other news, President Obama pledged to reform the tax system Wednesday, calling for a simpler tax system that is fair to the middle-class. Speaking on the day that income taxes are due, the president focused on middle class families facing difficult decisions in the recession, and pledged to restructure the tax system.
While the major averages all closed above the unchanged line, the tech-heavy NASDAQ underperformed the Dow and the S&P 500 by a wide margin. The NASDAQ ended the session up 1.08 points or 0.1 percent at 1,626.80, while the Dow jumped 109.44 points or 1.4 percent to 8,029.62 and the S&P 500 closed up 10.56 points or 1.3 percent at 852.06.
In economic news, South Korea's import prices climbed 10.6 percent year-on-year in March, at a slower pace compared to an 18 percent rise in February, the Bank of Korea said on Wednesday. Month-on-month, import prices increased 1.3 percent in March, slowing from a 3.9 percent rise in February.
Meanwhile, export prices rose 17.4 percent annually in March, slower than a 22.9 percent increase in the previous month. On a monthly basis, export prices increased 1.6 percent in March compared to a 4.8 percent rise in February.
Also, South Korea's National Statistical Office said on Wednesday that the jobless rate climbed to 4 percent in March from 3.9 percent in February. The number of unemployed increased to 952,000 from 924,000 in the previous month. At the same time, the number of employed persons grew to 23.1 million from 22.7 million in the preceding month. The participation rate rose to 60.2 percent from 59.3 percent.
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