Asian Markets Mixed on Outlook for China, U.S.

Asian stock markets were mixed Monday as investors digested signs that the U.S. holiday shopping season got off to a tepid start over the key Thanksgiving weekend.

While Japan's market fell, stocks in Hong Kong and mainland China rose on expectations of further measures by the Chinese government to boost the economy after last month's big interest rate cut and multibillion dollar stimulus package.

"These are the appetizers of a full meal," said Winson Fong, managing director at SG Asset Management in Hong Kong, which overseas about $3 billion in equities in Asia, referring to those earlier measures. "It's not the end."

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was up 297 points, or 2.1 percent, to 14,185.8, continuing its rally from last week, when it rose nearly 10 percent. China's Shanghai Composite index was up 0.4 percent to 1,879.66.

India's benchmark Sensex index also rose, climbing 2.4 percent to 9,305.94, reflecting at least some investor confidence in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, where the stock exchange is located, that left at least 174 people dead.

Stocks in Australia, Singapore and South Korea also fell.

Early reports from the U.S. showed modest gains in retail sales on Black Friday — the traditional start of the American holiday shopping season — but business appeared to fall off during the remainder of the weekend, considered one of the most important of the year for U.S. retailers. Also, sales gains seemed to come at the expense of profits as companies slashed prices to lure shoppers.

"We don't know if it's driven by sales or if U.S. consumers are getting their confidence back," said Fong.

Investors around the world are paying close attention to the weekend sales figures for clues on the strength of the American economy, a vital export market.

According to preliminary figures released Saturday by ShopperTrak RCT, a research firm that tracks total retail sales at more than 50,000 outlets, sales rose 3 percent to $10.6 billion on Friday from the same day a year ago. A more complete sales picture of how the Thanksgiving shopping weekend fared won't be known until Thursday when the nation's retailers report November same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year.

Stocks in Thailand rose, led by energy stocks, amid hopes that the country's political crisis will be resolved soon. Anti-government protesters have occupied Bangkok's two main airports for nearly a week, cutting off air freight, stranding tourists and causing millions of dollars in lost sales. The benchmark SET index was up 0.8 percent at 405.09.

In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average lost 123.34 points, or 1.5 percent, to 8,388.93, retreating after advancing 7.6 percent last week. Investors sold exporters as the yen strengthened, which erodes exporters' overseas earnings.

"Despite a rise on Wall Street last Friday, sentiment was downbeat as investors were bracing for weak U.S. manufacturing data due out later in the day," said Kazuhiro Takahashi, an equity strategist at Daiwa Securities SMBC Co. Ltd., referring to the Institute for Supply Management's report for November.

Wall Street advanced for a fifth straight session Friday — the first time the Dow Jone industrial average to accomplish that feat since July 2007. For the week, the Dow climbed 9.7 percent for the week and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 12 percent.

U.S. stock futures were down, suggesting Wall Street would open lower Monday. Dow futures were up 59 points, or 0.7 percent, to 8,763, and S&P futures were up 6.8 points, or 0.8 percent, to 888.5.

Oil prices fell to near $53 a barrel after OPEC declined to cut production at an informal meeting in Cairo on Saturday. Light, sweet crude for January delivery was down $1.13 to $53.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by midday in Singapore.

In currencies, the dollar declined to 95.22 yen from 95.48 yen in New York late Friday. The euro was little changed at $1.2685.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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