U.S. Employment Figures Buoy Nikkei, Buffett's BYD Boosts Hang Seng


Asian markets were mixed Thursday. In Japan the Nikkei 225 Index rose 0.9% to 10,586 and in Hong Kong the Hang Seng Index added 0.3% to close at 23,122. In China the Shanghai Composite Index edged down 0.4% to end the session at 2,903.

A slight slip in the price of oil allowed Japanese investors to focus attention on positive employment figures out of the U.S. instead, where private employers bumped up payrolls with 217,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by ADP. This data will surprise the more than 50,000 workers that private placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas say were slated to lose their jobs in February, and many will await the final word from the U.S. Labor Department, which will release its report tomorrow morning.

In Japan shares in machinery exporters climbed higher with Okuma, which manufactures heavy tools like lathes and grinders used to make everything from medical implants to airplane landing gear, surging 6.3%, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries rocketing up 5.4%. Hitachi Construction Machinery shot up 3.5% on high hopes for increased overseas sales of its bulldozers, excavators and cranes.

Fuji Heavy, which makes Subaru all-wheel drive cars as well as jet engines, rose 0.9%, Honda also increased 0.9% and Isuzu advanced 0.8%. Mazda and Toyota both lost value with Mazda slipping 1.5% and Toyota dipping 0.1%.

Meanwhile, rumors that Yahoo plans to dump its 35% stake in Yahoo Japan have fueled investor buying, with Softbank, the alleged receiver of the shares, continuing to rally today. Shares in the Japanese telecom company shot up 4.8%, while Yahoo Japan tumbled 1.5%.

In Hong Kong shares in Buffett-backed BYD climbed higher on an announcement from the company's billionaire founder Wang Chuanfu that BYD electric cars will be available in Europe next year and that BYD has won approval for a joint venture with Daimler, according to the China Post. If priced right, the Chinese-built vehicles will be a welcome addition to the poor selection available in a country that bestows hefty road tax and parking discounts to electric car drivers. Today, shares surged 5.1% -- although they are still worth less than half their October 2010 value.

Hong Kong-listed banks climbed with Standard Chartered leaping 4.4%, China Merchants Bank jumping 2.3%, China Construction Bank and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China both adding 1% and HSBC up 0.4%.

In China harsh news from the International Air Transport Association took a toll on airline stocks. The industry group predicts that rising oil prices will limit profits for the sector to $8.6 billion -- down from the $9.1 billion they forecast just a few months ago, says Market Watch, China Southern Airlines plunged 2.1%, Air China fell 1.8%, Hainan Airlines slipped 1.4% and China Eastern Airlines slid 1.1%.

On a more positive note, Chinese banks rose in Mainland trading as well, where Merchants Bank surged 4.2% and Agricultural Bank of China advanced 1.9%.