Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Asian indexes drop as Nikon, Softbank decline

BLOOMBERG

Asian stocks fell this week amid skepticism from some investors that earnings and economic growth will justify further gains in the region's shares after a seven-month rally. Softbank Corp led declines.

The Morgan Stanley Capital International Asia Pacific Index, which tracks more than 800 companies in the region, fell for the first week in three, losing 1.7 percent. The benchmark rallied 44 percent since closing at its low this year in April.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 4.4 percent to 10,167.06, its first weekly decline in three, to a three-month low.

Nikon Corp slid after saying fiscal first-half operating profit plunged because of a gain in the yen against the dollar and fewer sales of chipmaking machines.

"A lot of the good news is priced in and investors are slowly closing shop for the year locking in gains," said Alex Muromcew, who helps manage US$600 million in stocks globally as a fund manager for Loomis Sayles & Co in San Francisco. "Why take big bets now?"

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index shed 1.4 percent, its biggest weekly decline in seven. Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 1.8 percent this week, led by Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.

South Korea's index was the best performing among the region's major benchmarks, while Sri Lanka's Colombo All Share Index was the worst. The Sri Lankan index had its worst back-to-back weekly drop since it was introduced in 1985 on concern peace talks aimed at ending the island's 20-year civil war may be delayed.

In the US yesterday, technology stocks fell, as investors shifted out of the market's best performers this year and into laggards such as drugmakers.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 0.8 percent to 1050.35. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.7 percent to 9768.68. The NASDAQ Composite Index dropped 1.9 percent to 1930.26.

Softbank, Japan's second-largest high-speed Internet access provider, slumped 26 percent to ¥4,000 this week, its biggest weekly drop since March 10, 2000.

The company on Monday reported a record first-half loss after spending twice as much to attract subscribers to its Web service.

Nikon, the world's biggest maker of machines used to print circuitry onto silicon wafers, slid 16 percent to ¥1,435, as it reported a first-half operating profit that fell 69 percent from a year ago.

The dollar shed 1.3 percent against the yen this week, falling as low as 107.87 against the yen on Monday, just shy of a 35-month low.

A lower dollar threatens to reduce the value of exporters' overseas sales.

A decline in the dollar against its Australian counterpart also dragged the S&P/ASX 200 to its biggest weekly drop since the period ended Sept. 26.

The Australian dollar touched US$0.7224 in New York trading on Thursday, the highest since Oct. 22, 1997.

News Corp, the world's fifth-largest media company, slid 7 percent to A$12.20. It relies on the US for three-quarters of its sales. BHP Billiton, the world's largest miner by sales, dropped 4.2 percent to A$11.29. It makes 85 percent of its sales outside Australia.

The Straits Times Index had its third weekly decline in four.

Neptune Orient, Singapore's largest shipping line, tumbled 14 percent this week to S$2.11 after selling 236 million shares, representing about 17 percent of its enlarged share capital, at a discount.

Asian computer chip-related stocks including Singapore's Chartered Semiconductor Manu-facturing Ltd, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co declined after Infineon Technologies AG, Europe's second-biggest semiconductor maker, said price cuts may temper its earnings outlook.

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