Asian stocks fall over worries about debt troubles in Europe

Asian stock markets extended their slide Monday, after Wall Street notched its fourth straight weekly drop, amid worries over risks from debt troubles in Europe.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 closed at a nearly two-month low, falling 1.1 percent, or 105.27 points, to 9,951.82 as exporters were hit by a stronger yen, which can erode their overseas profits. It was its lowest close since Dec. 10, when the Nikkei ended at 9,862.82.

Oil prices rose modestly while the dollar gained against the euro.

Shares in Toyota Motor Corp. rebounded earlier in the day, after the company’s president Akio Toyoda apologized late Friday for the crisis over massive recalls due to safety problems in some of its most popular models. But they later fell back, shedding 0.9 percent.

Chinese shares also dropped in listless trading, with investors keeping to the sidelines ahead of a weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, which begins Saturday.

“Nothing is really bad, and nothing is really good. The market is flat because people are holding onto their money ahead of the Chinese New Year,” said Peng Yunliang, an analyst at Shanghai Securities, in Shanghai.

Global markets have had a dismal couple of weeks as investors fretted about the debt crisis enveloping several European countries. Those concerns intensified last week after Portugal’s lawmakers defeated the government over its deficit reduction plan.

A surprise drop in the U.S. unemployment rate Friday tempered losses on Wall Street though analysts say it will take several years for employment to return to its pre-financial crisis levels.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.5 percent, or 14.49 points, to 2,928.46 by midmorning, led by declines in banks and other financial companies.

But analysts say the government seems determined to keep the market steady, and that investors will likely pile back in after the holiday.

“It’s clear the government doesn’t want to kill the market. But they don’t want to push prices too high, either,” said Peter Lai, an investment manager at DBS Vickers in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.2 percent, or 41.11 points, at 19,623.97 and South Korea’s Kospi was off 0.9 percent, or 14.33 points, at 1,552.79.

Elsewhere in the region, shares were lower in Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Philippines but rose in Singapore, Taiwan and in Australia, where strength in commodities prices boosted shares in resource companies.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed the week down 55.10, or 0.5 percent, at 10,012.23. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 7.68, or 0.7 percent, to 1,066.19. The Nasdaq composite index fell 6.23, or 0.3 percent, to 2,141.12.

Oil prices rose in Asia with benchmark crude for March delivery up 17 cents to $71.36.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 89.32 yen from 89.50 yen. The euro fell to $1.3630 from $1.3664.

Source: AP

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