World markets hit by US and Japan economic news

 

World stock markets fell today, with trading thinned by year-end holidays and mixed economic news out of the US and Japan.

Benchmark oil hovered above $101 per barrel while the dollar fell against the euro and the yen.

European stocks dropped in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.2% to 5,501.25, Germany's Dax was 0.9% lower at 5,839.98 and France's CAC-40 lost 0.4% to 3,092.01.

Wall Street also appeared set for a lower opening. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.2% to 12,199 while S&P 500 futures dipped 0.3% to 1,256.60.

Earlier in Asia, trading was subdued, as it typically is between the Christmas holiday and New Year.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.2% to close at 8,423.62, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.6% to 18,518.67 and South Korea's Kospi lost 0.9% to 1,825.12. Australia's S&P ASX 200 lost 1.3% to 4,088.80. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia were also lower.

Japan's industrial output dropped a seasonally adjusted 2.6% last month - the first decline in two months. But the negative news was mitigated by expectations of rebounding manufacturing and production this month and next, which helped to mute stock market losses.

The Shanghai Composite Index reversed course after early losses, rising 0.2% to 2,170.01. But the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index sank 0.5% at 849.76.

Some investors were "dumping shares" because Beijing has failed to take steps they expected to stimulate slowing economic growth, said Peter Lai, investment manager for DBS Vickers in Hong Kong.

"Some investors believed there would be a reduction in interest rates or the bank reserve ratio. But this hasn't happened," he said.

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) plunged 11.8%, a day after Japanese Industry Minister Yukio Edano suggested the embattled utility be put under temporary state control and warned the company against resorting to electricity bill hikes.

Tepco operates the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which was heavily damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami, and owes massive compensation payments to people and companies harmed by a nuclear disaster at the plant.

Hong Kong-listed property shares also slumped. China Overseas Land & Investment slid 3% and China Resources Land lost 2.7%.

China Mengniu Dairy, the country's biggest dairy company, plummeted 24% in Hong Kong after acknowledging that a cancer-causing toxin had been found in milk produced by the company.

Mengniu apologised and said no tainted milk had made it on to the market. The government blamed the problem on bad feed given to cows.

Retail shares also slid on growing anxiety over the global economy in 2012. Hong Kong-listed jewellery retailer Chow Sang Sang shed 4%. Australian department store chain David Jones fell 2.1 % and Woolworth's lost 0.9%.

On Wall Street yesterday, the Dow Jones lost less than 0.1% to close at 12,291.35. The S&P 500 was up marginally to 1,265.43 and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.3% to 2,625.20.

US consumer confidence surged to an eight-month high, but home prices fell in 19 of the 20 cities tracked by the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index. That report dampened investors' enthusiasm about a jump in consumer confidence to the highest level since April.

Benchmark crude oil rose 2 cents to $101.36 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.66 to finish at $101.34 per barrel on the Nymex yesterday.

In currency trading, the euro fell to $1.3075 from 1.3069 dollars late yesterday in New York. The euro has been weak because of worries about Europe's government debt crisis. It is still trading just above an 11-month low of 1.2943 dollars reached on December 14.

The dollar fell to 77.73 yen from 77.85 yen.

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