Japan's stock market ends in buoyant mood

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The Independent Online

Japan's Stock market ended 2004 yesterday with a 1 per cent rise on the day to mark its first consecutive annual gain for almost a decade.

The Nikkei closed up 107 pointsat 11,488 after the final half-day of trading. This month's rebound took its annual gain to 7.6 per cent. It was the first back-to-back yearly rise since the successive gains of 1993 to 1995.

The rise was matched by other Asian markets, which shrugged off the human cost of the tsunami off the coast of Indonesia to post record highs.

Stock markets in Hong Kong, India and Indonesia itself, where the death toll was approaching 120,000 last night, closed at an annual peak. Shares in Sri Lanka rose 1.6 per cent, following a 5.3 per cent drop in the days immediately after the tsunami.

Julian Jessop, the chief international economist at Capital Economics, said the limited fallout made sense, despite the horrendous social cost. "The longer-term economic impact should be limited by the fact that the damage has been contained to immediate coastal areas. The earthquake and tsunami appear to have avoided major population centres, commercial districts and industrial and shipping facilities," he said.

In London the FTSE 100 index, which hit a high for the year on Wednesday, posted a small rise yesterday to take its gain for 2004 to 7.7 per cent.

The dollar was on track for its third consecutive year of falls, matching the period in the mid-Eighties that culminated in the longest annual losing streak since 1987, when the Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers met to end a three-year slide in the currency. The dollar, as measured on the Federal Reserve's trade-weighted scale, has fallen 27 per cent from its peak in February 2002.

This is dwarfed by the 46 per cent fall from 1985, when the G7 agreed that a weaker dollar was "desirable", to the Louvre accord in 1987 that put the brakes on the fall.

The dollar fell across the board yesterday after a below-consensus snapshot of regional US business activity kept the currency under selling pressure.

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