Asian markets mixed, Tokyo surges on yen tumble

Asian markets mixed, Tokyo surges on yen tumble

HONG KONG - Asian markets were mixed on Friday, with Tokyo's Nikkei surging to a near three-year high on the back of a weaker yen, while Wall Street provided an uneven lead.

The yen resumed its downtrend after a brief rally as the country's vice finance minister indicated the new hawkish government would step in to stop the currency from returning to record highs against the dollar.

Tokyo surged 2.88 per cent, or 305.78 points, to 10,926.65, pushing the benchmark index to its best close since April 2010.

Sydney was 0.42 per cent higher, adding 25.0 points to 4,835.2 but Seoul closed 0.91 per cent lower, shedding 17.79 points to 1,946.69.

In the afternoon Hong Kong lost 0.37 per cent while Shanghai eased 0.22 per cent on profit taking.

Hong Kong closed flat, dipping 18.47 points to 23,580.43, and Shanghai fell 0.49 per cent, or 11.30 points, to end at 2,291.30.

Takehiko Nakao said the government was closely watching the yen's movements in currency markets, adding that "appropriate action" would be taken if it got too strong.

His comments in an interview with the Wall Street Journal sent the yen tumbling Thursday in New York, where the US dollar jumped to 90.40 yen from 88.56 yen a day earlier, while the euro climbed 120.91 yen from 118.00 yen.

In afternoon Japanese trade the dollar stood at 90.59 yen and the euro bought 121.50 yen. The single currency fetched US$1.3413 - around highs not seen for 11 months - from $1.3376 in New York.

"Nakao's comments serve as a stark reminder of the government's unrelenting drive to pursue a weaker currency in an attempt to resuscitate the economy," Chris Gore, a currency analyst at Go Markets, said in a note to clients, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

The comments also capped a rise in the yen that began on Tuesday as dealers were left disappointed by the Bank of Japan's plan, which had been widely expected, to set an inflation target to beat deflation, and pursue unlimited monetary easing.

The BoJ move, which came after pressure from the government, raised eyebrows around the world and stoked fears of another currency war as governments look to weaken their currencies to boost exports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "I will admit I am not without some concern about Japan right now." She added that "political influences or manipulations of the exchange rate" have become a hot topic within the Group of 20.

However, Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso on Friday rejected claims that Tokyo was orchestrating a slide in the yen, with the online version of the Nikkei quoting him as saying such criticism "is completely off the mark".

Highlighting the work ahead for Japan's new leaders, official data Friday showed the economy remained stuck in a deflationary rut, with core consumer prices slipping 0.1 per cent in 2012, the fourth annual decline.

Traders took heart from another rise on the Dow, which ended 0.33 per cent higher after figures were released showing weekly US jobless claims fell for a second straight week, but Wall Street's other two major indexes fared less well.

The S&P 500 was flat and the tech-rich Nasdaq fell 0.74 per cent, dragged by a 12 per cent plunge in Apple after the iPhone maker's latest earnings report fell short of expectations.

Seoul, which fell on weak economic growth figures Thursday, took another hit on Friday after index giant Samsung Electronics posted below-forecast results for the October-December fourth quarter.

Oil prices were mixed, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March rising 28 cents to US$96.23 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March delivery rising 17 cents to US$113.45.

Gold was at US$1,670.26 at 0840 GMT compared with US$1,677.37 late Thursday.

In other markets:

Taipei fell 0.30 per cent, or 23.41 points, to 7,672.58.

Hon Hai Precision rose 1.09 per cent to Tw$83.4 while TSMC was 0.9 per cent lower at Tw$99.0.

Manila closed 0.82 per cent higher, adding 50.37 points to 6,167.64.

Ayala Corp. rose 1.85 per cent to 552 pesos, Alliance Global Group gained 0.11 per cent to 17.48 pesos and Manila Electric Co. was 1.50 per cent up at 284.60 pesos.

Wellington rose 0.24 per cent, or 9.91 points, to 4,199.82.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare was up 2.1 per cent at NZ$2.49 and Telecom added 1.9 per cent to NZ$2.38.

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