Profit-taking, recovery fears weigh on Asian markets

HONG KONG, April 8, 2010 (AFP) - Investors cashed in on recent gains in Asian stock markets Thursday with optimism over the global economic recovery tempered by worse-than-expected credit data out of the United States.

The fears also pushed the dollar down against the yen, while the euro was hit by further problems for Greece over its debt.

Japanese exporters were big losers on the strengthening Japanese currency, sending the Nikkei index 1.10 percent or 124.63 points lower to close at 11,168.20.

The dollar stood at 93.23 yen, down from 93.37 yen in New York Wednesday.

The market was also weighed by data showing Japanese core private-sector machinery orders, a leading indicator of corporate capital spending, fell 5.4 percent in February. Expectations were for a 3.9 percent rise, according to a Dow Jones Newswires poll.

The figure marks the second consecutive monthly fall, following a 3.7 percent decline in January, highlighting the economy's fragility.

Hong Kong ended 0.28 percent lower, dropping 61.73 points to 21,867.04, while Shanghai closed down 0.94 percent, or 29.51 points at 3,118.71.

Investors were following a lead set by Wall Street, which gave up 0.66 percent after a central bank report showed demand for consumer credit was much weaker than expected in February.

The Federal Reserve said credit balances fell 11.5 billion dollars from January, to 2.448 trillion dollars, down 5.6 percent from a year ago. Forecasts had been for a drop of 0.7 billion dollars.

"This was a disappointing report, showing that households are continuing to pare back credit," Barclays Capital analysts told clients.

Eyes will be on fresh figures out of the US next week, including retail data, consumer prices and corporate inventories as well as the Federal Reserve's Beige Book report.

Investors also digested a speech by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, who warned that the US, facing enormous budget deficits, would have to choose between higher taxes or lower social spending.

Asian shares were also subject to profit-taking after most regional bourses had risen five percent in March.

"There are positive signs emerging from the global economy with upbeat US jobs data released last week supporting this view. However, I think it's still too early to say that the global recovery is strong," Daewoo Securities' fixed income analyst Yoon Yeo-Sam told Dow Jones Newswires in Seoul.

"There are still many people without work and exports in Asia are not picking up as much as we had hoped."

Fresh concerns over the eurozone debt crisis emerged after Greece's borrowing costs jumped, with investors losing faith in an EU-IMF deal to help Athens.

For the second time this week, the return on Greek 10-year bonds -- a key sovereign debt instrument -- jumped above seven percent, beyond what the country can sustain in its efforts to raise billions of euros by next month.

The euro fetched 1.3332 dollars in Tokyo afternoon trade, down from 1.3342 in New York trade late Wednesday. It also fell against the yen at 124.29 in Tokyo from 124.43.

Australian unemployment remained at 5.3 percent in March, official figures showed, giving a strong indication of a recovery in full swing.

The figure of 5.3 percent contrasts with 9.7 percent in the United States and a record 10 percent in the 16-nation eurozone, which were both hit hard by the economic crisis.

Despite the news, Sydney stocks closed 0.46 percent, or 23 points, lower at 4,937.9, with weak commodities prices hitting resources chips.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was due in Beijing Thursday to hold talks expected to focus on the yuan, with hopes that Beijing may allow its currency to appreciate.

The United States and China's other key trading partners have been pressing for a stronger yuan, saying it is undervalued and gives exporters an unfair advantage.

The Chinese currency has been effectively pegged at 6.8 to the dollar since mid-2008, and US lawmakers have been pushing the US Treasury to label China a "currency manipulator" -- which would open the door to sanctions.

Oil was lower, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, down 12 cents to 85.76 dollars a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for May shed 32 cents to 85.27 dollars per barrel.

Gold ended in Hong Kong at 1,144.00-1,145.00 US dollars an ounce, up from Wednesday's close of 1,135.50-1,136.50 dollars.

In other markets:

-- Singapore closed 0.83 percent, or 24.91 points, down at 2,963.19.

DBS Group Holdings tumbled 0.41 percent to 14.66 Singapore dollars, ST Engineering lost 1.80 percent to 3.28 and Singapore Airlines was off 1.02 percent to 15.46 Singapore dollars.

-- Seoul rose 0.42 percent, or 7.18 points, to close at 1,733.78.

-- Taipei closed down 0.79 percent or 64.18 points at 8,057,60.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co fell 1.89 percent to 62.3 Taiwan dollars and United Microelectronics Corp was 0.88 percent lower at 17.05.

-- Jakarta fell 1.65 percent, or 47.75 points, to 2,850.83.

-- Kuala Lumpur shed 0.90 percent, or 12.16 points, to close at 1,332.93.

Construction giant Gamuda slipped 4.30 percent to 2.86 ringgit while insurers Affin rose 1.60 percent to 3.25 ringgit.

-- Manila closed 0.44 percent, or 14.25 points, lower at 3,256.12.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. shed 0.4 percent to 2,490 pesos.

-- Wellington fell 0.52 percent, or 17.31 points, to 3,307.77.

Contact Energy shed 1.1 percent at 6.43 New Zealand dollars and Fletcher Building lost 1.5 percent to 8.37.

Telecom fell 0.9 percent to 2.22.

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