Asia stocks fall on weak Japan trade figures

Associated Press
An Indonesian woman walks past an electronic stock board at the Jakarta Stock Exchange in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. Asian stock markets rose Wednesday after the Bank of Japan became the latest major central bank to announce action to shore up fragile economic growth. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets turned lower Thursday after weak Japanese trade figures underlined that the global economy continues to struggle.

The Japanese data showed that the country's powerhouse export sector was continuing to suffer the effects of a slowdown in Europe and elsewhere. Exports in August totaled 5.05 trillion yen ($64.33 billion), down 5.8 percent from a year earlier, the Japanese Finance Ministry said. Imports were also down. Exports to Europe sank 28 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index dropped 1.4 percent to 9,108.71. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.9 percent to 1,990.65 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.5 percent to 20,721.78. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and mainland China also fell. New Zealand's bucked the trend and rose.

Asian stocks had rallied a day before, after the Bank of Japan announced an aggressive monetary easing program in an attempt to spur growth and counter the strength of the Japanese yen.

But the market impact of the Bank of Japan's move was short-lived, a possible sign that investors are getting stimulus-weary. The move came days after the U.S. Federal Reserve revealed it will purchase an average of $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities a month until the economy shows significant improvement.

Andrew Sullivan, principal sales trader at Piper Jaffray in Hong Kong, said in an email that it was "disappointing that the initial rally on the BOJ stimulus did not hold."

Markets also didn't get much encouragement from the release of preliminary manufacturing data out of China for September. The HSBC Flash Purchasing Managers' Index stood at 47.8 for the month out of a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate contraction.

Still, the figure was an improvement over August's 47.6 level, suggesting that the slowdown may be stabilizing.

"It showed the decline has slowed down," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong. "The problem is with Europe and America. Except for the iPhone, nothing is selling."

Japanese export stocks took a beating, as the yen bounced back from a brief drop sparked by the central bank's announcement Wednesday. Mazda Motor Corp. plummeted 5.8 percent and Yamaha Motor Co. lost 4 percent. Sony Corp. tumbled 4.5 percent.

Australian surf wear retailer Billabong International plunged 6.9 percent after saying that a private equity firm that had been looking to make a takeover bid for company had pulled out.

On Wednesday, Wall Street rose modestly following a pair of encouraging reports about the housing market.

Home sales jumped to the highest level in more than two years in August, the National Association of Realtors said. Sales rose 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.82 million, the most since May 2010.

Earlier, the government reported that construction of single-family homes in August also was the fastest in more than two years.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 0.1 percent at 13,577.96. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.1 percent to 1,461.05. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.2 percent to 3,182.62.

Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 97 cents to $91.01 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract for crude fell $3.31 to finish at $91.98 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3002 from $1.3063 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 78.15 yen from 78.39 yen.