Asian Markets Mixed on Chinese Inflation and Korean Showdown


Asian markets were mixed Wednesday. In China the Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.1% to 2,860 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng Index advanced 0.6% to 23,024. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index sank 0.8% to close at 10,030.

Despite strong measures taken by the Chinese government to control inflation, prices in China are continuing to rise. Beijing has announced it will sell reserves of grain, sugar and cooking oil and exempt trucks transporting foodstuffs from paying tolls to help the situation. But price controls have not yet been put into place and shoppers are feeling the pinch -- some are even traveling all the way to Hong Kong to buy products like toilet paper and shampoo for less.

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But today shares in raw materials and consumer product companies rebounded, as investors speculated that prices will not come down since cash is still flowing into China from around the world. In fact, Kweichow Moutai, one of China's largest liquor companies, profited today after rumors circulated that retail prices could surge as much as 24% by the end of next month, according to Bloomberg. Other liquor makers also rose with Luzhou Laojiao Company, maker of a carbonated, peach-flavored drink that is more than 50% alcohol, soaring 4.7% and Wuliangye Yibin, whose Wuliangye Liquor 68 is 68% alcohol, surging 3.7%.

Among Chinese mining companies, Zhuzhou Smelter, a zinc producer, climbed 3.1%, Zijin Mining and Jiangxi Copper both rose 2.5% and Aluminum Corp. of China, or Chalco, gained 1.8%.

Korean Showdown Sends HK Investors Scrambling

In Hong Kong, investors scrambled to recoup after yesterday's panic when a South Korean island came under attack by North Korea and returned fire. Hong Kong real estate shares, especially hard hit by both the Korean situation and new rules increasing down payments and other requirements for property purchases, rallied with Cheung Kong leaping 2.2%, Sun Hung Kai rising 1.5% and Sino Land advancing 1.1%.

Other big movers included Goodbaby International, a Chinese manufacturer of baby paraphernalia including strollers, that jumped 20% on its Hong Kong debut today. China Dongxiang Group, on the other hand, plunged 12.6%. The company sells sportswear and owns the rights to the Kappa brand in China, known for its sponsorship of soccer teams around the world and supplying the outfits for Italy's national rugby union team.

Irish Woes Shake Tokyo

In Japan, investors pulled money out of the market, seeing gloomy times ahead. The Tokyo Stock Exchange was closed Tuesday for Labour Thanksgiving Day, delaying the reaction to the Korean crisis until today. This, coupled with concern that Ireland's financial woes could hamper the European recovery, and even spread to other E.U. countries, dragged shares lower.

Most car companies fumbled with the added pressure of a rising yen. Nissan plunged 2.1%, Honda tumbled 1.8% and Toyota sank 0.9%. But Isuzu rallied, scoring a 3.6% gain after beating half-year forecasts on rising truck sales.

Exporters of computer components sank, as many of them deal directly with South Korea. Tokyo Electron dropped 2.1%, Shin-Etsu Chemical, which makes silicon wafers, retreated 2% and Advantest fell 1%.

Add to that a 2.5% slump in Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and a 1.9% decline in Mitsubishi UFJ, and it wasn't all that good a day on Japan's big board.