Asian stock markets were trading rangebound in cautious trade, following the mixed finish on Wall Street overnight

Japan’s Nikkei Average [JP;N225  10715.12  -16.3301  (-0.15%)   ] rose 0.1 percent, lifted by resource-linked shares such as trading house Mitsubishi Corp on higher commodity prices, but gains were limited after the index hit a 15-month closing high the day before.

Japan Airlines dropped over 8 percent after the  Nikkei business daily reported the airline is likely to post a net loss of 1.23 trillion yen ($13.3 billion) this financial year due to a huge restructuring charge, according to a plan from a state-backed turnaround fund.

The Nikkei added 13.04 points to 10,744.49, well above its 25-day moving average of around 10,200.

The index edged up the previous day to post its third straight day of gains and a 15-month closing high.

 The broader Topix gained 0.4 percent to 934.60.

Eyes are on future comments and actions by Naoto Kan after Japan named the fiery deputy prime minister as finance minister on Wednesday, turning to a politician with less hawkish fiscal
views than his predecessor. Although market players said they saw little immediate impact on the market from the appointment.

Kan, who takes over after 77-year-old Hirohisa Fujii stepped down for health reasons, is a critic of the Bank of Japan for being too rosy in its view of the economy and has pressured the central bank into easing its already hyper-loose monetary policy.

Shares in trading houses and other resource-related shares gained after metals prices rose on Wednesday. Sumitomo Metal Mining, a leading smelter, advanced 2.6 percent to 1,483 yen, with fellow smelter Dowa Holdings gaining 3.9 percent to 556 yen. Mitsui Mining & Smelting
surged 5.3 percent to 260 yen.

Mitsubishi rose 1.4 percent to 2,463 yen and fellow trading house Mitsui & Co added 1.4 percent to 1,413 yen.

Recent gainers ran out of steam, which also weighed on the market, with Canon Inc falling 1.2 percent to 3,980 yen.

Seoul shares were flat, with the benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) down 0.1 percent at 1,703.5 points mid-day.

Samsung Electronics was down 1.43 percent despite a solid fourth-quarter earnings guidance. Analysts said its relative weakness was due to a recent jump in its share price, which lifted it to an historic high of 841,000 won in the previous session.

Samsung Electronics said early on Thursday that it expected profit for the October-December quarter to come in higher than market forecasts, helped by strong memory chip prices and robust demand for flat-screen televisions.

LG Electronics, the world’s No.3 cell phone maker, retreated 6 percent after news that Google Inc had launched a new smartphone that it would sell directly to consumers.

“LG Electronics’ smart phone business is not exactly doing well, so Google’s smart phone comes as serious competition,” said Yoo Jong-woo, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities.

Carmakers continued to decline amid the won currency’s persistent strength, fueling concern about price competitiveness overseas. Hyundai Motor, South Korea’s top carmaker, was down 2.25 percent. Kia Motors, South Korea’s No.2, declined 1.76 percent.

Australian stocks lost 0.2 percent after trading flat for the morning, as some mining stocks surrendering early gains.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index [AU;XJO  4902.8  -18.597  (-0.38%)   ]dipped 7.5 points to 4,913.9, after a flat finish on Wednesday.

New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 index was 0.4 percent higher at 3,2857.42.

CBH Resources surged 13 percent to A$0.13 on expectations of takeover a bid. The zinc miner told the stock exchange it was in “discussions with a number of separate parties with respect to transactions which are focused on getting shareholder value”. The stock rose 4.5
percent on Wednesday.

Retailers jumped after stronger than expected sales data for November. Furniture and electricals chain Harvey Norman rose 3.6 percent to A$3.95 and department store David Jones gained 1.57 percent to A$5.17.

Retail sales rose 1.4 percent for the month, well above analysts expectations of 0.3 percent in a Reuters poll.

Fortescue Metals shed all of its morning gains to trade 0.5 percent lower by mid-day. Its shares had risen earlier as media reported analysts picking iron ore prices to rise up to 30 percent this year.

The four major banks were all sold, with National Australia Bank down 1.1 percent to A$26.92, Westpac down 1 percent to A$25.14, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group down 0.7 percent at A$22.51 and Commonwealth Bank of Australia falling 0.5 percent to A$55.69.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index eased after gaining 0.5 percent initially but the market is underpinned by a rosy outlook for the domestic economy.

CNOOC rose 1.3 percent as oil counters advanced after oil prices climbed above $83 a barrel on Wednesday.

China Coal was up 1.89 percent and Yanzhou Coal rose 4.02 percent. Harsh weather in parts of China tightened coal and power supplies, while demand rose on falling temperatures.

Macau casino operators Sands China retreated 4.96 percent and Wynn Macau lost 2.14 percent on profit taking after rallying sharply in the previous session, brokers said.

Zijin Mining was up 1.09 percent. China’s largest listed gold company said net profit rose more than 15 percent last year from 2008 on higher gold prices.

Other gold companies also rose as gold prices hit a three-week high on Wednesday, with Real Gold Mining up 2.89 percent.

Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing was up 3.4 percent on expectations volume of trade on the city’s bourse would rise this year, with a string of IPOs planned in coming months. Turnover rose to its highest in more than a month on Wednesday.

Aluminum Corp of China rose 2.71 percent, as investors remained upbeat after China’s top aluminum company raised spot alumina prices.

The Shanghai Composite shed 0.2 percent to 3,247.8 points. China National Engineering made a weak debut, its shares gained about 6 percent but were below analysts’ forecast.

Singapore stocks gave up opening gains to slip into the red. The benchmark Straits Times Index declined 0.3 percent at 2,919.6 points by mid-day. UOB was in focus after the lender sold its life insurance unit to Prudential for $307 million.

Malaysia’s KLCI hit a fresh 20-month high of 1299.27 this session.

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