Japanese Shares Jittery as More Earthquakes Rumble

In Asia Wednesday Japan's Nikkei 225 Index retreated 1.7% to 9,449 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dipped 0.1% to 22,825. In China the Shanghai Composite Index rose 1% to end the day at 2,948.

More bad news in Japan sparked profit taking today. Radioactive iodine has seeped into Tokyo's drinking water, making tap water unsafe for babies under the age of one, according to the Japan Times. Meanwhile Prime Minister Naoto Kan has warned Fukushima residents against eating certain locally grown vegetables, including broccoli and spinach, and new reports show that the surrounding seawater is also radioactive, which could lead to a ban on seafood if the contamination doesn't dissipate. Today another series of earthquakes rocked Japan, including a 6.6 magnitude tremble.

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All this was more than enough to rattle the markets. Jtekt, a maker of car parts for Toyota, slumped 6.1% after Toyota announced it's suspending production in its Japanese factories until March 26. Alps, which provides automotive electrical components, slid 4.9%. Honda also says it's halting production lines for the time being, and today slipped 1.8%. Other car makers fared no better with Isuzu tumbling 3.2%, Mitsubishi Motor dropping 2.9%, Mazda falling 2.1% and Toyota down 1.2%.

Other big losers included Tokyo Electric, the owner of the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor, which plunged 4.5%, gaming company Konami, which lost 4.4% and Trend Micro, a software company, which slid 5.3%

Beverage Makers Soar as Japanese Turn to Bottled Water

But investors plowed money into beverage producers after warnings about Tokyo's drinking water. Coca-Cola West shot up 5.6%, Ito En, specializing in tea products including canned and bottled tea-based products like Sencha Shot and Oi Ocha, climbed 3%. Beer makers also rose with Asahi Breweries gaining 2.6% and Kirin adding 1.9%.

Makers of water purification equipment also ballooned. Nihon Trim, which sells Pristine brand ionized mineral water and filtration systems, zipped up 14.4%, Organo Corp leaped 8.4% and Kurita Water Industries advanced 2.8%.

In Hong Kong shares in China Coal dived 9.1% after net income for the year increased only 1%, far below expected. Maanshan Iron & Steel retreated 2.6% after reporting a 95% decrease in net income for the second half of the year, according to Bloomberg.

Gains in the territory's real estate sector carried the market higher with Henderson Land shooting up 2.8%, Cheung Kong rising 2% and Sino Land adding 0.1%.

Clothing retailers and distributors suffered losses with China Dongxiang Group, which sells Kappa brand sportswear in China, slumping 9.6%, Li & Fung falling 0.8% and Esprit down 1%.

China's real estate companies also rose after rumors circulated that local governments, now responsible for controlling the housing bubble, won't set targets as low as expected. Poly Real Estate jumped 3.9%, Gemdale gained 3.1% and China Vanke rose 2.4%. Despite additional programs to rein in prices, including higher down-payment requirements and restrictions on purchasing second and third homes, property values continue to soar. Statistics bureau numbers for February show that prices increased in all but two of the 70 cities tracked.
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