Nikkei Rises on Chemicals and Construction Machinery, HK Scores on Casinos

Shares in Asia closed mostly higher Tuesday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 Index climbed 1.6% to close at 10,371 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng Index crept up 0.1% to 20,272. In China, the Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.2%, ending the day at 2,935.Industrial robot maker Fanuc Ltd. advanced 2.2% in Tokyo this Groundhog Day, as cries from PETA to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a robotic rodent hit the news. PETA is worried about Phil's well-being and feels he should be allowed to sleep away the day like a normal groundhog, instead of being forced to perform in front of crowds gathered to hear his prediction. Fanuc Ltd., however, makes robots that wrap the packaged cheese you buy, chop and package lettuce and stack pharmaceuticals into tidy rows and is not likely to come out with a weather predicting i-rodent anytime soon. Sorry PETA.

Japanese chemical makers surged with Nippon Soda Co. shooting up 11.1%. The chemical maker raised its estimated profits for the year ending on March 31 by 30% and also reported a decrease in net profits for the first nine months of its fiscal year, according to Bloomberg. Investors plowed into other chemical companies, including synthetic and chemical fiber manufacturer Kuraray Co, which rose 4.3%, Nissan Chemical Industries, which advanced 4.1% and Denki Kagaku Kogyo KK, which makes and supplies chemical products, and added 3.6% today.

Japanese-listed Toyota shares staged a small comeback today, rising 2.9% after saying dealers are set to begin repairing the accelerators on the 5 million recalled vehicles. The carmaker's stock has lost 18% of its value since the recall first hit the news. Other Japanese automakers also fared well: Isuzu Motors rallied 6.2% and Honda gained 3.4%.

Both Hitachi Construction Machinery and Sumitomo Heavy Industry rose more than 5% today, as the companies are still expected to post profits for the past fiscal year ending in March. Both companies boast China as a major client, and the past year's economic gains have meant big business for them. Sumitomo Heavy Industry produces both small electronics parts as well as construction and factory machinery, and rose 5.6% in today's trading. Hitachi Construction, which makes giant excavators at plants located in China, surged 6.2%.

In China, real estate shares slid lower, as expected in a tightened credit market. Shanghai Shimao Co. tumbled 2.7% Beijing Capital Development sank 2.4%, China Vanke lost 1.4 and Poly Real Estate slid 0.6%. Chinese mining and commodity companies closed higher today: Zijin Mining Group surged 5.9% and Jiangxi Copperclimbed 2.3% on higher raw materials prices.

In Hong Kong, casino stocks were among the top-performing sectors: SJM Holdings rose 5%, Melco International Development added 2.9%, Sands China gained 2.7% and Wynn Macau advanced 2.2%. This January casino revenue rose 63% as compared with numbers from a year earlier, making $1.8 billion in profits, according to Reuters. The island is a favorite destination for hardcore Chinese gamblers who spend hours in the smoke-filled rooms. As the easy Chinese loan slips out of reach, perhaps more Chinese are being lured to the gambling table in the quest for the elusive modern lifestyle.
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