Asian Shares Slide, Apple Co-Founder Chats up Toyota Prius

Shares in Asia slid lower Monday. In Japan the Nikkei 225 Index tumbled 1.1% to 9,951 and in China, the Shanghai Composite Index dipped 0.1% to 2,935. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index fell to a five-month low, losing 0.6% and ending the day at 19,551.

Electronics companies were among Japan's biggest losers today with Casio Computer slumping 5.3%. The company widened its net loss forecast for the year ending in March. Casio's November launch of the world's slimmest shock-resistant digital camera and this week's release of the Digital Art Frame, capable of turning your holiday snaps into images of oil paintings in the style of the old masters, were not enough to get investors to overlook the effects of slumping demand around the world and the rising value of the yen.

Other electronics companies also suffered with Panasonic diving 5.3% despite Friday's announcement that it sold 48% more flat-screen TVs in the last quarter as compared with a year earlier and that the company's operating profit was expected to be up 25% from earlier forecasts. Sony Corp (SNE), maker of the PlayStation 3, also fell today, dropping 3.6%.

Meanwhile, Japan's car companies sank lower. Toyota Motors (TM), mired in recall news and mounting consumer complaints, slipped 1.1%, despite Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak telling Bloomberg that the problems should not stop people from buying the Prius. "There are bugs in every product," he told Bloomberg. Wozniak owns four of the hybrid cars and has experienced the problems first hand, suddenly finding himself speeding along at 97 miles per hour. While Wozniac chalks the problem up to a software glitch, he is on Toyota's case to address the issue, having reported his own problems to Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to the New York Times. After both organizations snubbed him, he appealed to ABC News, Bloomberg and other wide-reaching media organizations to spread the world and get the problem addressed. Other Japanese carmakers also closed lower today. Both Mazda and Isuzu sank 2.6% and Honda fell 2.1%.

In Hong Kong, commodity-related shares dragged the Hang Seng lower. Aluminum Corp of China, affectionately known as Chalco, declined 2.5% and offshore oil behemoth Cnooc, lost 1.7%. Shares in Maanshan Iron & Steel tumbled 2%, gold miner Jiangxi Copper receded 1.8% and Zijin Mining Group dropped 1.6%. Prices of the six metals on the London Metal Exchange, including steel and copper, dipped 2.5%.

The bad news for banks continued with Chinese lending restrictions severely limiting bank operations. China Merchants Bank lost 2.1%, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China dropped 1.8% and Bank of China fell 1.4%. HSBC dipped 1%.

In China, Real Estate was among the worst performing sectors with Poly Real Estate tumbling 2.3%, Gemdale dropping 1.6% and China Vanke losing 0.9%. But in anticipation of rising sales over the Chinese New Year holiday beginning February 14, Suning Appliance, which sells refrigerators, washing machines and solar water heaters, handy for those in extremely rural areas, rose 2.9%, and department store operator Tianjin Quanye Bazaar surged to its 10% daily limit.

As the country prepares to celebrate the year of the tiger, Panda Fireworks Group leaped 6.6% in today's trading, with investors heavily favoring it to rival Liuyang Fireworks, which lost 1.6%. But today, investors may not be in much of a mood to celebrate.
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