Asian markets inched higher Tuesday, but gains were tempered by a late-day slide on Wall Street and more bad news from Japan as it raced to stop radiation leaking from a nuclear power plant damaged in an earthquake nearly three weeks ago.
Japanese shares trudged higher after diving earlier in the day amid reports that highly toxic plutonium was leaking into the soil from the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, crippled on March 11 when a towering tsunami spawned by huge earthquake barreled into the facility.
Oil prices hovered below $104 a barrel in Asia as traders eyed gains by Libyan rebels seeking to topple Moammar Gadhafi and restart crude exports from the OPEC nation. The dollar was lower against the euro and little changed versus the yen.
Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index was up 0.2 percent to 9,948.94 in the afternoon after sinking 1.5 percent in early trading.
China’s Shanghai Composite Index added 0.3 percent to 2,992.63 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index reversed course after opening lower, up 0.1 percent to 23,091.41.
Shares in Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp., which build nuclear power plants, fell 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent respectively in Tokyo. Shares in Japanese companies expecting to play a major role in rebuilding the country’s quake-shattered northeast also drooped as the government remained preoccupied with the nuclear crisis. Nishimatsu Construction Co. Ltd. and Hitachi Construction Machinery Co. Ltd. were both 1.5 percent lower.
South Korea’s Kospi was 0.5 percent higher to 2,066.84.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5 percent to 4,756.60 in light trading. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd., which produces uranium, dropped 3.5 percent amid fears Japan’s nuclear crisis will reduce demand for the radioactive element used in nuclear fuel and weapons.
Benchmarks in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines fell.
In New York on Monday, stocks closed with slight losses after falling in the last half-hour of trading. Major indexes had been up for most of the day after several economic reports suggested that the recovery is continuing amid rising consumer spending and pending home sales.
Crucial reports were to be released on Wall Street later this week, including Friday’s U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for March, which often sets the market tone and is of particular interest amid signs that the Federal Reserve is gauging when to tighten its super-loose monetary policy.
Ben Potter, market strategist with IG Markets in Melbourne, said a new catalyst was needed to spur buying and that positive U.S. data this week may serve that purpose.
“This may come in the form of continuing upbeat data out of the US, potentially starting this Friday with the non-farm payrolls report. The upcoming Q1 earnings season in the US could also be a major catalyst if reports beat street expectations,” Potter said.
On Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.2 percent to 12,197.88. The broader S&P 500 index lost 0.3 percent, to 1,310.19. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.5 percent to 2,730.68. Each index had been up more than 0.4 percent earlier in the day.
Benchmark crude for May delivery was down 19 cents to $103.79 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped $1.42 on Monday to settle at $103.98.
The euro rose to $1.4106 from $1.4097. The dollar dropped to 81.67 yen from 81.70 yen late Monday in New York.