Asia Lower

Tokyo shares fell Tuesday on profit-taking and a higher-than-expected unemployment rate in Japan for February

European stock markets were mixed on Tuesday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange-100 lost 3.50 points, or 0.07%, to close at 4919.00. The FTSE narrowed losses to close well above the 4900 mark as pressure on the oil sector eased while the banks sector also lent support. Wall Street was trading flat at the time of the London close after the Conference Board consumer confidence index for March showed a drop to 102.4, vs. expectations of 102.8 and previous reading of 104.4. At home, the overall tone was negative. In the pharma sector, Shire Pharma and AstraZeneca were hit by profit-taking after a strong start to the year. Scottish & Newcastle rose after Baltika, its Russian subsidiary jointly-owned with Carlsberg, reports a 30.9% rise in fiscal 2004 pretax profits. Tate & Lyle said overall trading performance has continued in line with its expectations. The group added that demand for Sucralose remains very strong with current production capacity fully utilised.

Germany's Dax gained 8.29 points, or 0.19%, to close at 4351.89. German indices pared some of its morning losses and closed up as major Wall Street markets traded higher. Dealers expected trading to be extremely quiet for the remainder of the week with the Dax expected to remain stuck within a range between 4275 and 4400. U.S. consumer confidence fell for a second straight month. Friday's nonfarm jobs data may hold the key to short term trading direction but with first quarter reporting due to start in earnest in the next few weeks investors are likely to remain cautious. Among German stocks that moved today, Deutsche Boerse slipped despite Morgan Stanley resuming coverage with an overweight rating. Thyssen dipped on Asian growth concerns while Infineon and Adidas-Salomon eased on similar fears. Car stocks were under continued pressure on GM worries while VW said its Mexico unit has rehired 1,500 workers this year to meet higher demand.

In France, the CAC-40 gained 3.34 points, or 0.08%, to close at 4081.65. The CAC40 eked out gains on Tuesday as Wall Street shook off its opening blues and began to edge higher. Equities were initially pushed lower as the U.S. consumer confidence reading for March showed a decline to 102.4 from a revised 104.4 in February, on gasoline prices. The fall was slightly steeper than the 102.8 the market had been expecting. However, the downside was contained by the dollar's rise against major currencies and an easing in crude futures. At home, Arcelor fell after disclosing it would cut production of flat carbon steel by 1 million tons in the second quarter, due to lower demand. Danone failed to inspire with the news that it is considering selling its HP Foods unit for as much as 500 million pounds.

Asian markets were lower on Tuesday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 lost 192.48 points, or 1.63%, to close at 11,599.82. Tokyo shares fell on profit-taking after rising for three straight trading days. The downside was also attributed to a higher-than-expected unemployment rate in Japan for February. Kyocera dropped 2.8% after it trimmed its earnings estimate for this fiscal year by 22% to 46 billion yen. Department store operator Mitsukoshi also lost 4.9% after it forecasted a bigger net loss of 4 billion yen for 2004/2005. On the upside, Cannon rose 0.4% on the back of news that the copier maker will branch out into the pharmaceutical business.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index plunged 185.22 points, or 1.4%, to 13,411.88, with the day's total mainboard turnover standing at $17.3 billion (hong kong). Among 33 constituent stocks, only Denway Motors and COSCO Pacific went up. China Unicom slid after it posted 2004 net profit of 4.39 billion yuan (+4% year-over-year or -24% year-over-year on a pro-forma basis) which was below market expectations mainly due to higher-than-expected expenses from the CDMA division. Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 86.95 points, or 0.92%, to close at 9,395.42.

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