HK Jewelry Sales Sparkle, Japanese High-Tech Toilet Maker Surges

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Markets were mixed in Asia Monday. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index climbed 0.6% to 20,244 and in Tokyo the Nikkei 225 Index added 0.1% to end the day at 10,205. In China, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.6% to 2,941.

There was good news in shopping mecca Hong Kong: According to a report released by the government, December retail sales were at a 20-month high. Sales of jewelry, watches and other valuable gifts rose by 30% compared with a year earlier. This was welcome news for the Hong Kong jewelry industry, still reeling from dismal sales at October's enormous Jewelry Expo, where orders were down 20% and cheap items costing less than $100 were the order of the day, while enormous diamond extravaganzas remained largely unwanted in the shadow of the looming economic crisis.

In another report released today, the Hong Kong government found that there was also a surge of Mainland tourists to the territory, raising the question of who, exactly, was doing all this shopping.

Today, Eternite International, a Hong Kong designer and distributor of fine jewelry that went public this past October, spiked 3.2% and Noble Jewelry Holdings, which specializes in sparkling diamond pieces, surged 3.9%.

The report also said that vehicle sales increased 30%. A fact that is easy to detect as the island's roads become more and more choked with cars. A trip from one side of the island to the other, which took 15 minutes in 2002, can now take 30 minutes or more as traffic builds on the single lane, oceanside roads and in the Aberdeen tunnel connecting the island's residential South Side with the city center. Warren Buffett-backed BYD Co, which stands for "Build Your Dreams," surged 4.3% today, making money for Berkshire Hathaway owners (BRK.A). Meanwhile, Great Wall Motor climbed 3.4% and DongFeng Motor edged up 2.8%.

In Japan, carmakers sank with Mazda plummeting 3.7%, Honda losing 2.5% and Toyota slipping 1.1%, adding to last week's losses due to a major recall of more than 5 million vehicles with faulty accelerator pedal mechanisms.

Other Japanese losers included a 6% slide in Toshiba shares and a 5.7% drop by memory chip maker Elpida. Among the shares that gained value today, TOTO Ltd. surged 7.1%. The company makes high-tech toilets that play music, squirt water and warm your posterior. It also manufactures other bathroom fittings including the Otohime, which detects activity and plays an electronic toilet flushing sound loop to preserve women's privacy -- lest anyone guess what she is doing in the bathroom stall.

In China, commodity and mining shares closed lower as the government turned its attention to regulating output. Hebei Iron & Steel tumbled 3.8%, Jiangxi Copper lost 3.6% and Maanshan Iron & Steel fell 3%. Meanwhile, zinc producer Zhuzhou Smelter Group plunged 5.4%. Energy companies were also lackluster today: Datong Coal Industry dropped 5.8% and China Shenhua Energy lost 3.2%. If the authorities were aiming to cool China's economy, it seems their efforts are certainly paying off.


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