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Asia stocks muted as Japan companies report losses

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.3 per cent to 8,823.08. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 per cent to 1,959.92. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was flat at 20,431.96.

twitter-logoAssociated Press | January 27, 2012 | Updated 11:54 IST

Asian stocks failed to make much headway on Friday after disappointing Japanese corporate earnings and US home sales - considered crucial to an economic recovery - were weaker than expected.

Benchmark oil hovered below $100 per barrel while the dollar was lower against the euro and the yen.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.3 per cent to 8,823.08. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 per cent to 1,959.92. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was flat at 20,431.96, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.2 per cent to 4,279.

Jackson Wong, vice president of Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, said profit-taking was the order of the day as investors remained unconvinced that the overall global economic scenario was changing for the better.

"A lot of investors are a little bit worried. Not all the fundamentals have changed. Since we had a huge run up, investors are just taking some profits" until mainland Chinese markets open on January 30 following the Lunar New Year holiday.

However, bargain-hunters indulged in stocks that took a beating last year, Wong said, including clothing retailer Esprit Holdings Ltd., which rose 2.8 per cent.

Some traders were in wait-and-see mode ahead of the release of fourth-quarter gross domestic product figures from the US Commerce Department later Friday. GDP measures the economy's total output of goods and services.

Economists predict growth will strengthen to around 3 per cent in the October-December quarter from about 2 per cent in the third quarter. Analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said the reading was expected to "look healthy."

Attention was also focused on the resumption of talks to reach a deal on how Greece can avoid a catastrophic default on its debt. Greece and its bailout rescuers - other countries that use the euro and the International Monetary Fund - are asking private creditors to swap their Greek bonds for new ones with a lower value and interest rate.

The two sides have so far disagreed over what interest rate the new bonds should take.

In the US, stocks slipped on Thursday after the government reported an unexpected drop in new home sales in December, capping the worst year for home sales since record-keeping began in 1963.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.2 per cent at 12,734.63. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed down 0.6 per cent at 1,318.43. The Nasdaq shed 0.5 per cent to close at 2,805.28.

But there were some bright spots. Orders to factories for long-lasting manufactured goods increased in December for the second straight month, and a key measure of business investment rose solidly.

Japanese exporters continued to be hit by a strong yen, which reduces the value of repatriated profits. Honda Motor Corp. slid 2.1 per cent and Panasonic Corp. shed 2.5 per cent. Fujitsu Ltd. plunged 3 per cent.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 6 cents to $99.76 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 30 cents to finish at $99.70 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3110 from $1.3104 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 77.02 yen from 77.49 yen.

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