World Markets Mostly Down as Dismal Data Weighed

SHANGHAI, China – World markets were mostly lower in choppy trading Thursday, as investors mulled dismal economic data from China and a hefty, recession-fighting interest rate cut by South Korea's central bank.

Highlighting signs that the world's fourth biggest economy is weakening much faster than expected, China said Wednesday that its exports fell in November for the first time in seven years, prompting some investors to cash in on recent gains.

"This signals that China's economic growth is going to slow down noticeably," said Francis Lun, general manager of Fulbright Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average closed up 0.7 percent, or 60.31 points, at 8,720.55 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.2 percent to 15,613.90. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.8 percent to 1,154.43.

But markets in Australia, China, Singapore and India fell while major European bourses opened lower. Britain's FTSE-100 was down 1 percent at 4,325.92, Germany's DAX slipped 1.8 percent to 4,718.05 and France's CAC-40 fell 1.5 percent to 3,270.14.

The Nikkei rebounded in afternoon trading on renewed optimism over the approval late Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives of a $14 billion bailout plan for ailing automakers.

A collapse of the U.S. auto industry would be catastrophic for exporting countries like Japan that rely heavily on American consumer spending, and investors were reassured despite the certainty of strong opposition from Republican senators.

Japanese automakers extended gains, with Honda Motor Co. jumping 7.9 percent and Toyota Motor Corp. advancing 4.8 percent.

South Korean stocks rose after the central bank carried out its biggest interest rate cut ever, slashing a key rate by a full percentage point to a record low of 3 percent.

But gains overnight on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.8 percent to 8,761.42, failed to lift regional sentiment overall.

Stock futures pointed to a weaker session in the U.S. on Thursday. Dow futures fell 49 points, or 0.6 percent, to 8,712 and S&P 500 futures were down 1.8 points, or 0.2 percent, to 894.

In China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 2.3 percent, or 47.44 points, to 2,031.68 after Chinese leaders ended a top level economic policy meeting without announcing any fresh initiatives to spur growth.

Banks and steelmakers were lower, as was Shanghai market heavyweight PetroChina, which slipped 1.5 percent to 11.42 yuan.

"Everyone knows that 2009 is likely to be the most difficult year ever for developing China," said Peng Yunliang of Shanghai Securities. "People are truly worried."

Major carriers China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines jumped 9.9 percent to 3.66 yuan and 4.28 yuan, respectively, after the airlines announced details of plans for government cash infusions.

Oil prices edged higher on hope for a significant OPEC production cut next week. Light, sweet crude for January delivery was up 59 cents to $44.11 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange by midafternoon in Singapore.

In currencies, the dollar was trading at 92.45 yen from 92.85 yen. The euro stood at $1.3151 from $1.3008.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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