Shares Rise in Japan Despite Higher Unemployment, Buffett's BYD Scores Big in Hong Kong

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In Asia Friday Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 1.7% to 19,767 and Japan's Nikkei 225 Index advanced 1.3%. In China the Shanghai Composite remained unchanged at 2,656.

New figures show that Japan's unemployment rate increased 0.1% in April. Data about household spending was even worse, with a 0.7% drop from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg. Oddly, retail sales rose 4.9% from last year, with most advances going towards auto and gas purchases. And all the while, prices are falling.

Companies that are laying off employees or tightening their belts were rewarded today. Takeda Pharmaceutical, which announced it will lay off 10% of its workforce, advanced 0.8%, and Takashimaya, the upscale department store noted for elegant gift wrapping and high-end products, climbed 4.4%. The company is closing down its New York flagship store and is planning to sell its elegant Fifth Avenue premises. New York magazine described the 40% off clearance sale event on the Upper East Side as a "gleeful free-for-all," with women stockpiling cosmetics and handbags. Other Japanese department store operators also gained ground today with Marui adding 1.3% and UNY adding 1%.

Meanwhile, the country's exports grew 40.4% in April, making investors hopeful that bets on exporting manufacturers will pay off. Today Pioneer surged 3.4%, Panasonic Electric gained 2%, Canon rose 1.6% and Sanyo was up 1.5%. Fanuc, the maker and exporter of robots that package our lettuce and cheese, soared 4.4%.

Japanese companies that saw big gains today included COMSYS Holdings, a consortium of telecommunication and information processing businesses that gained 4.2%, and Inpex, an oil and natural gas company that advanced 4.2%. Building-related shares also rose with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which makes transportation equipment and other heavy machinery, rallying 4.8% and Hitachi Construction Machinery advancing 4%.

In Hong Kong, Warren Buffett-backed BYD Co. skyrocketed 9.4% after an announcement that it will be investing $88 million in a partnership with Daimler in China. The joint venture will manufacture luxury electric vehicles in China, where the public is awaiting news of new subsidies for clean vehicles, according to Bloomberg.

China Titans Energy Technology, stormed onto the Hong Kong stock exchange, rising as much as 47% in its debut today. Other energy companies also gained, with PetroChina surging 3.5%, oil explorer CNOOC soaring 2.8% and China Resource Power gaining 2.7%.

In China, property developers closed lower today with Gemdale plunging 2.9%, Poly Real Estate dropping 2.5% and China Vanke falling 1.3%. Rumor has it that China Vanke may slash prices on its stock of apartments by as much as 30%, as reported in the Beijing News, and discussions about instituting property taxes are still in the works.

Gainers in Shanghai included Hualan Biological, which climbed 7%, on predictions that Chinese investment in medicinal products will spur a revitalization of the industry. Tianjin Tasly Pharmaceutical scored a 6.2% increase and Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine rose 2.5%. One of China's oldest traditions may now bring new prosperity.
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