Asian markets closed lower Wednesday. In Japan the Nikkei 225 Index slid 2.4% to 10,492 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng Index fell 1.5% to 23,049. China's Shanghai Composite Index edged down 0.2% to end the day at 2,914.
Investors around the world focused on rapidly rising oil prices, which broke the $100-per-barrel mark in response to growing tensions in the Middle East. Higher oil prices mean higher costs for manufacturers, and today Japanese producers took a hit as investors considered today's rise in the value of the yen, higher energy costs and a slowdown in the global economic recovery.
Bad News for Automakers
This was not good news for car makers as Isuzu plummeted 3.7%, Toyota plunged 2.9%, Mazda tumbled 2.8% and Honda slid 2.5%. Makers of car parts also slumped with Jtekt, a Toyota partner diving 3.5%, Asahi Glass falling 4.3% and Alps, an automotive electronics firm, declining 2.1%. Japanese-listed shares of Bridgestone slipped 1.7%.
Electronics exporters pulled the Nikkei lower with Sharp losing 4.8% after Morgan Stanley downgraded its shares. Pioneer gave up 4.4%, Sanyo Electric fell 2.4% and Sony lost 2.2%. Competing gaming company Nintendo plunged 3.7% with some suspecting that enthusiasts purchased shares long before last weekend's launch of the 3DS, helping Nintendo shares rise more than 20% since last October, according to Reuters.
Shares in Yahoo Japan spiked 3.7% today on rumors that it's discussing dumping its 35% stake in a joint venture with Softbank. Softbank is denying that any discussions have taken place, but its shares tumbled 3.6%. Some speculate that Yahoo is likely to avoid structuring any deal as a sale in order to avoid paying hefty taxes on any proceeds, says Bloomberg. Coming on the heels of an announcement that Yahoo plans to eliminate 1% of its workforce, this may not be the best publicity move, as it could irk taxpayers tired of hearing about corporate tax avoidance.
and Chinese Railways . . .
Turmoil in Libya had a major effect on Hong Kong-listed Chinese railway firms that have scored contracts around the world. China Railway Construction plunged 7.8% after halting three construction projects in Libya and racing to evacuate its workers.
Sinopec and Cnooc also fell today after successfully suspending Libyan operations and sending workers back to China. Cnooc evacuated all 77 of its Chinese employees and Sinopec sent its seven employees home, according to Reuters. But shares in Chinese-listed PetroChina were up 0.3%.
In Hong Kong, airline shares tumbled in reaction to the higher oil prices. China Southern Airlines nosedived 3.5%, Cathay Pacific Airways and Air China both slumped 2.6%, China Eastern Airlines sank 1.5%. Chinese-listed airline shares also sank.
On the brighter side, BYD, Warren Buffett's electric car hopeful, rallied 9.2% in Hong Kong on reports that its cars will be available in Europe sometime next year.