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Australia slips, Japan ends flat in thin trade

SYDNEY (MarketWatch) — Australian shares slipped and Japanese stocks ended little changed on Monday, with several exporters rising to offset losses in energy sector shares.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average JP:100000018 -0.01%  finished almost flat at 8,765.90, although the broader Topix index climbed 0.2%. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index AU:XJO -0.34%  fell 0.3% to 4,225.10, weighed by weakness in resource-sector stocks.

Many regional markets, including those in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul, were closed for Lunar New Year holidays.

“There’s nothing really new today that’s going to drive the market higher, but what we are doing is hanging on to decent gains from last week,” Louis Capital Markets’ head of Japanese equities Ben Collett said.

“We’re seeing Japan attract some capital,” Collett said. “Other than a potential shock in the currency this week, there’s nothing to derail the optimism and the capital being allocated to Japan.”

The Asian moves followed gains for U.S. blue-chip stocks on Friday, with solid earnings reports from International Business Machines Corp. IBM -0.01% and Microsoft Corp. MSFT +0.20% helping boost sentiment.

Exporters mostly advanced in Tokyo.

Toshiba Corp. JP:6502 +4.28%TOSYY +2.00%  climbed 4.3% after a report said U.S.-based contract chip maker GlobalFoundries Inc. is looking to buy a semiconductor factory in Japan, with Toshiba facilities among those in consideration. Read more on GlobalFoundries report.

Elpida Memory Inc. JP:6665 +1.74% ELPDF +17.88%  and Casio Computer Co. JP:6952 +2.18%CSIOY +0.62%  rose 1.7% each, while Mazda Motor Corp. JP:7261 +1.55% MZDAY -4.36% added 1.6%.

Shares in Sony Corp. JP:6758 +4.02% SNE +3.42% advanced 4%, while those of Olympus Corp. JP:7733 +8.26%   OCPNY +1.80% surged 8.8%, following a Diamond business magazine report which said the two firms were in the final stages of negotiations to form a capital and business alliance. Read more on the Sony-Olympus tie-up.

Olympus shares also appeared to benefit after Tokyo Stock Exchange said late Friday it would keep the scandal-plagued camera maker listed.

Panasonic Corp. JP:6752 -1.38% PC -0.82%  shed 1.4% after Moody’s Investors Service cut its debt rating of the firm, as well as that of Sony, citing a strong yen and problems facing their respective television-making units.

Shares of Inpex Corp. IPXHF +10.03% JP:1605 -1.75%  dropped 1.8% and JX Holdings Inc.JP:5020 -2.75%  shed 2.8% as a firmer U.S. dollar weighed on crude-oil prices.

Some resource-linked stocks also dragged in Sydney.

Iron-ore producer Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. AU:FMG -3.66% FSUMY +2.74%  lost 3.7%, Bluescope Steel Ltd. AU:BSL -1.16% BLSFY +1.42%  fell 1.2% and Woodside Petroleum Ltd.AU:WPL -0.85% WOPEY +2.28%  dropped 0.9%.

Health-care stocks were also notable decliners. Ramsay Health Care Ltd. AU:RHC -3.49% traded down 3.5% and Primary Health Care Ltd. AU:PRY -1.99%  dropped 2%. See report on Australian stock moves.

The performance in Asia came amid lingering European uncertainty, after Greece failed to reach a debt-restructuring agreement over the weekend with holders of its sovereign bonds.

Greece needs to seal a deal with its private bond-holders before it can receive more financial assistance and avoid defaulting on a bond repayment due in March.

“The resolution to the European problem is going to take a long time,” Louis Capital Markets Collett said. “Politicians continue to push back deadlines. There are systemic issues [however], the real demand from Europe and the reduction in trade is already pricing into the market.” 

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