Asian shares off as Japan aftershocks renew fears

Wednesday, 13 April 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

HONG KONG, (AFP) - Asian shares mostly fell Tuesday after strong aftershocks in Japan following last month’s devastating quake-tsunami stoked fresh concerns over the nuclear crisis, while the yen also surged.

With Wall Street providing a weak lead after poor earnings from aluminium giant Alcoa, investors focused on Japan after the country was jolted on Monday -- a month after the March 11 tragedy -- by a 6.6 magnitude quake.

Japan was rocked again on Tuesday by two more aftershocks of 6.0 or greater magnitude.

Tokyo’s Nikkei ended 1.69 percent, or 164.44 points, down at 9,555.26 while Hong Kong fell 1.33 percent in the afternoon.

Sydney closed 1.46 percent, or 72.5 points, lower at 4,898.7 and Seoul fell 1.55 percent, or 32.99 points, to 2,089.40.

However, Shanghai added 0.46 percent.

The renewed fears also sent currency dealers running for safe havens, with the yen rallying against the dollar and the euro.

Monday’s earthquake forced the evacuation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after it briefly cut power to three reactors already crippled by last month’s 9.0 quake and resulting tsunami.

The Fukushima crisis was again in focus after Japan upgraded its nuclear emergency to a maximum seven on an international scale, the first time the ranking has been invoked since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Japan’s nuclear safety watchdog said radiation emissions from the plant were equal to 10 percent of those produced by Chernobyl.

Shares in Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, finished down 10 percent, at 450 yen.

“A lot of people put Japan out of their mind, but with the government saying it’s as bad as Chernobyl, people have realised this isn’t going away,” said IG Markets strategist Cameron Peacock in Sydney.

And Hisatsune Kobayashi at SMBC Nikko Securities told Dow Jones Newswires: “There is unlikely to be any medium to long-term moves to buy Japanese stocks. Foreign investors are especially nervous.”The US earnings season got off to a weak start with Alcoa falling in after-hours trading after it reported sales growth was worse than expected.

“There is going to be more of a wait-and-see attitude as investors brace for additional US earnings, especially from financial institutions this week,” said Yumi Nishimura, deputy general manager at Daiwa Securities.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended just 0.01 percent higher, the tech-rich Nasdaq fell 0.32 percent and the S&P 500, a broad measure of the markets, dropped 0.28 percent.

On currency markets dealers worried by the latest developments in Japan moved into safer haven units.

The dollar dived from 84.78 yen in afternoon trade to 83.91 in the afternoon, compared with 84.67 yen in New York late Monday.

The Japanese unit also strengthened to 120.79 against the euro from 122.10.

The euro also fell to $1.4391 in Asia from $1.4436 in New York.

Sentiment was also dented after the International Monetary Fund in its World Economic Outlook forecast for the global economy to expand 4.4 percent this year from 5.0 percent last year, citing rising oil prices as a major headwind.

In early Asian trade, New York’s main West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, dived $1.49 to $108.43 per barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for May delivery slipped $1.44 to $122.54.

Gold opened at $1,458.00-$1,459.00 an ounce in Hong Kong, down from Monday’s close of $1,474.00-$1,475.00.

In other markets:

-- Taipei fell 1.66 percent, or 147.68 points, to 8,732.59.

HTC fell 4.17 percent to Tw$1,150.0 and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co lost 1.41 percent to Tw$70.1.

-- Manila closed 0.67 percent, or 28.51 points, lower at 4,199.48.

Alliance Global fell 2.7 percent to 10.94 pesos and Metropolitan Bank was off 1.2 percent at 67.00 pesos, while Philippine National Bank rose 10.6 percent to 67.50.

-- Wellington dropped, or 0.28 percent, or 9.78 points, to 3,451.54.