Japanese Fashion Tops Stock Charts, Casinos a Poor Bet in China

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The major indexes were mixed in Asia Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index rose 0.3% to 10,336 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index lost 0.5% to end the day at 20,422. Markets in China were closed for Chinese New Year.Japan's rising consumer confidence was evident in today's trading as retail companies closed higher. According to data from Japan's Cabinet Office, in January the index climbed to 39.0 from 37.6 in December -- still lower than November's figure of 39.5, but certainly heading in the right direction. This may be a small improvement, but economists are generally pessimistic when numbers fall below 50, according to japaneconomynews.com.

Aoyama Trading Co., which operates clothing stores in Japan climbed 2.3%. Fast Retailing, owner of the popular Uniqlo shops, gained 2.1%. Uniqlo suffered in January when it just about ran out of stock, a testament to the shops popularity. One of the retailer's most popular items were Heattech thermal tops and bottoms in bright colors that customers could mix and match. The items were so popular that Uniqlo sold nearly every one of the 50 million pieces it had stocked for the winter season, according to Bloomberg. In London, the comfy Heattech line was also popular as customers sought warmth during a coldsnap and surprise snowstorms.

Despite dismal profit forecasts, department store operators rose today. J. Front Retailing gained 1.6%; Aeon, which runs Jusco stores selling all kinds of low-cost plastic ware and furniture in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand, climbed 1.3%. High-end Takashimaya advanced 1.2% and utilitarian UNY added 1%. According to Reuters, many department store operators are closing storefronts in an effort to curb losses felt from the slow sales of high-ticket items like jewelry and fine art.

Computer-related shares climbed higher today. Clarion Co., maker of karaoke equipment and car audio systems, surged 9%. The electronics company will begin manufacturing multimedia navigation systems in Mexico. Casio Computer rose 1.4% and Hitachi rose 0.7%.

In Hong Kong, raw materials stocks slid lower. Aluminum Corp. of China, or CHALCO, declined 2.8% and Jiangxi Copper fell 1%. Real Gold Mining plunged 4.6% as gold fell below $1,110 per ounce.

Sheldon Adelson's Sands China, operator of the glitzy Venetian Macao-Resort dropped 5.7% in Hong Kong trading, despite the surge in gambling on the Portuguese island, the only place in China where mainlanders can go to gamble legally -- and only after securing a special visa. The shares followed a drop in the price of Adelson's Las Vegas Sands (LVS), which announced poor fourth quarter results. Billionaire Steve Wynn's Wynn Macau tumbled 2.9%, Melco International lost 1.6% and SMJ Holdings lost 0.2%.

Macau's gaming revenue reportedly rose 65% in January. Perhaps the growing uncertainty in Asia's stock markets is prompting disillusioned investors to place their bets at the gambling tables instead.
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