Asian Stocks Mixed Over Obama's Home's Plan

HONG KONG — Asian stocks markets were narrowly mixed Thursday, as President Barack Obama's $75 billion lifeline to homeowners did little to boost optimism about the outlook for the global economy.

Investors nibbled at some beaten down shares but enthusiasm was tempered by another dose of negative economic data in the U.S. and Asia, as well as Wall Street's sideways session. Oil prices languished below $35 a barrel, while the dollar was lower against the yen after advancing strongly overnight.

In Japan, the central bank kept its key interest rate on hold at 0.1 percent, as widely expected, and extended several emergency measures to increase liquidity, including its operation to buy corporate bonds from firms to help ease the funding crunch.

The Bank of Japan also warned conditions in the world's second-largest economy, already struggling with its biggest contraction in more than three decades, were unlikely to improve anytime soon. In Taiwan, meanwhile, bleak economic data confirmed the country as Asia's latest to slip into recession.

In New York overnight, U.S. markets ended a volatile session mostly flat after Obama unveiled his relief plan.

The program would provide incentives to mortgage lenders to help borrowers reduce their payments in an effort to counter a souring housing market at the core of the economic crisis.

While a number of analysts said the program might limit the hemorrhaging in housing prices, the market's cool reception seemed to show how much investors have lost confidence in government bailouts.

"We are still dealing with a lot of bad news. We all should be concerned what is going to happen in the economy," said Winson Fong, Hong Kong-based managing director at SG Asset Management, which oversees about $2 billion in equities in Asia. "Things are still getting worse this year, so we're seeing a lot of markets drifting down slowly."

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 stock average closed up 23.21 points, or 0.3 percent, at 7,557.65, buoyed by a weaker overnight yen that improves repatriated profits of the country's many exporters. Markets in Australia, India and Taiwan were higher as well.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 12,893.50, while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.6 percent to 1,107.10. Shanghai's benchmark was up 0.7 percent in a choppy session.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average edged up less than 0.1 percent to 7,555.63. For a second day, the blue chips managed to finish just above their November closing low. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped 0.1 percent to 788.42, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.2 percent to 1,467.97.

U.S. stock futures were up slightly, suggesting modest gains when Wall Street opens Thursday. Dow futures rose 36, or 0.5 percent, to 7,519 and S&P500 futures gained 2.6, or 0.3 percent, to 782.10.

In oil, light, sweet crude for March delivery was up 13 cents at $34.75 a barrel in Asian trade.

Overnight, the contract lost 31 cents to settle at $34.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract expires on Friday, and most of the trading was for the April contract.

In currencies, the dollar weakened against the yen, falling to 93.43 yen compared to 93.65 yen earlier. The euro rose to $1.2583 from $1.2560.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us