U.S. Retail Data Props Up Asian Markets

Most Asian stock markets advanced Friday. In Japan the Nikkei 225 Index rose 0.6% to 9,114 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng edged up 0.5% to 20,972. China's Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.4% to end the day at 2,655.

Improved sales numbers at major U.S. retailers gave a boost to Asian exporters of consumer goods. Of course this data looked particularly good thanks to tax-free holidays in selected states, including Connecticut, Florida and Texas. And tax- free purchases didn't just apply to back-to-school supplies like pencils and notebooks, they also included big-ticket items like televisions and computers. Stores like Best Buy (BBY) reported wall-to-wall shoppers. "People really come out when there's a tax-free weekend," one Best Buy manager in Massachusetts told allbusiness.com.

Grateful for a respite from the recent downward trend, investors poured money into Japanese electronics makers, most of which benefited from a sales boost during the tax-free periods. Sony reaped a 2.4% gain today, Sharp surged 1.6%, Canon gained 1.3% and Casio added 1.1%. Sound equipment maker, Pioneer, advanced 2.5% while car audio expert, Clarion, rose 2.5%. Exporters were also helped by a slight, but welcome, fall in the value of the yen.

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Alps Electric, which specializes in automobile electronics scored a 4.8% gain and car companies were also on the rise. Mazda shot up 2.2%, Toyota climbed 2.1% and Mitsubishi Motor increased 0.9%. Fuji Heavy Industries, which applies technology from its aircraft business to the production of its super-reliable Subarus, advanced 1.5%.

While sales at U.S. clothing retailers, including the Limited, Victoria's Secret and Kohl's, soared in August, according to Bloomberg, Hong Kong-listed retailers closed lower today. China Resources Enterprises, with retail businesses from textiles to food and beverages, sank 1.4% and Li & Fung, a major supplier to many major U.S. chains, inched down 0.1%. Esprit suffered the biggest loss, diving 5.4% after reporting an 11% fall in annual profits. Bloomberg reports that plans are in the works to open shops in 400 Chinese Mainland cities to counteract a slump in sales in the West.

Also in Hong Kong, Ping An, an insurance company supplying policies in China, and also providing financial services, rocketed up 5.5% while some property developers also gained. Wharf Holdings, the operator of some of Hong Kong's biggest shopping malls -- including Harbor City, which is directly accessible from the pier of the company's famous Star Ferry -- advanced 2%. Sino Land rose 3.2% and Henderson Land added 1.1%.

In China it was a good day for the satelilte navigation industry. The People's Republic launched a fifth navigation satellite into orbit last month as part of a plan to conceive a new global navigation service -- a competitor to the U.S.'s Global Positioning System, according to Xinhua. Shares in Beijing BDStar Navigation surged 10% and China Dongfanghong Spacesat skyrocketed 5%. Chengdu Goldtel Electronical Technology, a maker of navigation equipment components, rose 6.9%.

Chinese automakers also rose with FAW Car motoring up 4%, Chongqing Changan Automobile climbing 2.5% and SAIC advancing 1.1%.

But property developers counteracted these gains in China. Gemdale slid 1.2% and Poly Real Estate slipped 0.5%, with analysts expecting the Chinese government to engineer a housing price correction -- far preferable to the bursting bubble many spectators are predicting.
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