Japan's Economy Exceeds Growth Expectations, but Stocks Fall Today

In Asia Monday, Japan's Nikkei 225 Index slid 0.8% to 10,013. Markets in China and Hong Kong were closed in celebration of Chinese New Year.In Tokyo, stocks fell despite a government announcement that the economy grew more than expected during the last quarter of 2009. According to the Cabinet Office, GDP rose at an annualized rate of 4.6%, outpacing estimates of a 3.5% expansion. According to Bloomberg, Japanese companies that export their products to the rest of the world helped the expansion along, reporting that overseas shipments rose 5% during the same period.

But today, shares in major exporters declined in reaction to Beijing's most recent increase of the required amount Chinese banks must hold in reserve -- a move that could stymie the Chinese appetite for Japanese goods. Meanwhile, Toyota, already crippled from a major recall of about 8 million vehicles world wide, tumbled 3% further in today's trading after news emerged on Friday that it is adding 10,000 Tacoma pickup trucks to the list of faulty vehicles it is recalling. The pickups have drive shafts riddled with cracks. The dodgy shaft drives have not been implicated in any accidents so far, but according to the Japan Times, the car maker is voluntarily recalling them -- perhaps in an effort to save its tarnished image.

Other Japanese car makers also declined today: Honda fell 1.3%, Mazda sank 3.1%, Mitsubishi slid 2.4% and Nissan lost 1.7%.

Other losers today included Shinsei Bank, which fell 6.7% after calling off a merger with Aozora Bank, according to Bloomberg. Aozora's shares rose 0.9%. Sumitomo Osaka Cement, which makes both cement and ultrafine particles used in cosmetics and sunscreens, plunged 5.6%. Fuji Electric, manufacturer of vending machine and factory equipment lost 3.3%.

Only a handful of Nikkei-member stocks advanced today. Among those that rose were machinery maker Meidensha Corp, which surged 3.3%, credit card and loan guarantee company Credit Saison, which added 2.4%, and shipping company Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, which rose 2.3%.

Regardless of today's unimpressive performance, Japan's modest fourth quarter growth has allowed it to maintain its position as the world's second largest economy -- leaving China in third place for the time being.
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