Home >opinion >online-views >Asian markets mixed as 2008 draws to close

Hong Kong: Asia’s stock markets closed mixed on Tuesday as investors stayed away ahead of the New Year holiday while some of the region’s indexes brought the curtain down on a punishing year.

Big finish: A ceremony marking the last day of trading in 2008 at the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Tuesday. The Nikkei ended the day up but has lost some 40% of its value this year, its worst percentage point fall ever. Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg

By the end of the day, Tokyo was up 1.28%, Sydney rose 0.9% and Seoul 0.6%, while Taiwan leapt 3.91%. However, Hong Kong was down 0.7%, Shanghai 0.95% and Singapore 0.56%. India’s Sensex rose 1.92% (see full report in Markets Watch, Page M1).

Despite Japan’s Nikkei finishing the day up, it brought to a close a dreadful 12 months that saw the index lose some 40% of its value, its worst percentage point drop ever.

“It was a year beyond our imagination," said Kazuhiro Takahashi, an analyst at Daiwa Securities SMBC Co. Ltd.

The market repeatedly posted some of its biggest ever rises and falls and in October, plunged to a 26-year low.

Tokyo Stock Exchange president Atsushi Saito told the ceremony marking the close of the year’s trading: “In the long history of mankind, there have been many harsh economic slumps, but they have been overcome... We want to make the next year a year in which we will move towards the future in a constructive manner."

Seoul’s Kospi was also up on the day but has also lost at least 40% over the year. And there was more bad news as data showed South Korea’s industrial production fell 14.1% year-on-year, almost twice the level forecast by economists.

“This is a shocking number, and today’s data shows that the economy is deteriorating faster than expected," Bae Sung-Young, an analyst at Hyundai Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Sydney was boosted by commodities stocks, as fighting in West Asia between Israel and Hamas led oil prices back above $40, or Rs1,940, a barrel.

Shanghai was lower, despite an announcement by China Eastern Airlines Corp. Ltd that a previously agreed government bailout would be more than doubled to at least a billion dollars.

Bangkok finished 0.73% higher in its final session before the New Year but is still some 47% lower than its level at the end of 2007.

Manila was closed for a public holiday.

Japanese share prices closed up 1.28%. The Nikkei gained 112.39 points to close at 8.859.56 after a half day of trading. The finish means the index was down 42.12%—or 6,448.22 points—from 2007, marking the worst annual percentage fall since it was established in 1949, as the global economic crisis hit hard.

The stock market reopens 5 January.

In terms of points, the Nikkei suffered a steeper fall in 1990 with the end of the bubble economy, shedding 15,067.16 points or 38.71% of its value.

In 2008, the auto sector was hardest hit, with all of Japan’s car makers drastically cutting their earnings forecasts due to falling demand in the US and Europe, coupled with a soaring yen.

Shares in auto leader Toyota Motor Corp. lost half of their value in the course of the year.

The broader Topix index of all first section shares ended the year down 41.77% at 859.24. For the final session of 2008, it rose 4.47 points, or 0.52%.

In Hong Kong, share prices closed 0.7% lower.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed down 92.98 points at 14,235.50. Turnover was light at 26.38 billion Hong Kong dollars (HK$, Rs16,909 crore), the year’s second lowest level after Monday’s HK$21.95 billion.

Some analysts said they were still optimistic the index will benefit from rallies in regional bourses to move higher on Wednesday.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was 1.5% lower at HK$4.08 and China Construction Bank fell 1.9% to HK$4.17. Developers mostly fell due to expectations that property transactions will drop as Hong Kong has fallen into recession, analysts said.

Henderson Land Development Co. Ltd fell 3.4% to HK$28.10 and Hang Lung Properties Ltd was 0.6% lower at HK$17.22.

Energy stocks bucked the trend as tensions in West Asia heightened. Oil producer CNOOC Ltd jumped 4.35%.

Australian shares closed up 0.9%. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 33.1 points to 3,654.2 while the broader All Ordinaries rose 37.3 points to 3,591.5. A total of 663.47 million shares changed hands, worth 1.44 billion Australian dollars (A$, Rs4,938 crore).

Santos Ltd made a 0.7% advance to A$14.30, while BHP Billiton added 2.6% to A$29.92 and rival Rio Tinto was at A$37.05, a 1.3% gain. Woolworths Ltd added 0.5% to A$26.55.

In Shanghai, Chinese shares closed down 0.95%.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index, which covers A and B shares, ended down 17.57 points at 1,832.91 on thin trading volume of 37.9 billion yuan (Rs27,540 crore).

Property developers led the fall as real estate demand remained weak despite Beijing’s efforts to boost consumption.

China Eastern Airlines closed down 3.7% to 4.49 yuan, off a high of 5 yuan.

In Taipei, Taiwan share prices jumped 3.91%. The weighted index rose 172.88 points at 4,589.04 on a turnover of 50.46 billion Taiwan dollars (Rs7,607 crore). The market is at its highest since hitting 4,694.52 on 19 December.

Financial markets will close on 1 January and reopen 5 January.

Memory chip makers gained after Taiwan Premier Liu Chao-shiuan said his government would help them after the New Year holidays. Liu didn’t elaborate.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.Ltd, the world’s leading contract microchip maker, rose 4.27% to 45.2.

Cathay Financial Holding rose 6.94% at 37.

The South Korean stock market finished 0.6% up.

The close topped a dismal 2008 for the Kospi, which lost 40.7% on the year—its third worst showing ever.

However, it has still recouped nearly 20% since the year’s low in October.

It was the third worst percentage drop since the Kospi was renamed in 1983. The index finished 6.88 points up at 1,124.47.

Trading resumes in Seoul on 2 January.

Hyundai Heavy Industries ended 1.5% higher at 199,500 won (Rs7,789) and Posco finished up 0.8% at 380,000.

Samsung Electronics closed down 0.7% at 451,000 won while Hyundai Motor Co. ended flat at 39,500.

Singapore shares closed 0.56% lower.

The blue chip Straits Times Index fell 9.92 points to 1,770.65 on volume of 665 million shares worth 539 million Singapore dollars (S$, Rs1,857 crore).

“The market is very quiet and volumes are low, so sentiment is hard to gauge. It will probably stay like this for the rest of the week," said a trader with a local brokerage.

United Overseas Bank rose 36 cents to S$13, and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. was up 13 cents to S$5.04.

Shipping firm Cosco Corp. Singapore Ltd closed 6.5 cents higher at 1.03, and oil rig maker Keppel Corp. Ltd rose 16 cents to 4.42.

In Bangkok, Thai shares closed 0.73% higher. The Stock Exchange of Thailand composite index gained 3.26 points to close at 449.96.

PTT Plc. gained 2 baht (Rs2.88) to close at 175 baht while its subsidiary PTT Exploration and Production closed 4 baht higher at 107 baht.

The kingdom’s biggest lender Bangkok Bank remained unchanged at 69 baht.

Thailand’s flag carrier Thai Airways edged up 0.05 to close at 7.75.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian shares closed 1.6% higher.

The Kuala Lumpur Composite Index gained 14.28 points to close at 881.63. BAT gained 0.6% to 44.25 ringgit (Rs631), Bumi Commerce rose 1.7% to 6 ringgit and IOI Corp.Bhd added 2.3% to 3.58.

Indonesian shares ended 1.1% higher. The Jakarta Composite Index rose 14.52 points to 1,355.41.

The main index has fallen 51% since the start of the year.

Traders said expectations that the central bank will cut its key interest rate next month and higher oil prices inspired buying in banks and commodity-related stocks.

New Zealand share prices closed little changed.

The benchmark NZX-50 index gained 0.58 points, or 0.02%, to 2,678.22.

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