Asian shares mixed on eurozone fears, G20 eyed

Danny McCord
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Businessmen pass a share prices board in Tokyo on February 8, 2013

Businessmen pass before a share prices board in Tokyo. Asian stocks were mixed while the euro eased on Friday as data showed the eurozone slipped deeper into recession at the end of last year, while markets await the start of a Group of 20 meeting in Russia

Asian stocks were mixed while the euro eased on Friday as data showed the eurozone slipped deeper into recession at the end of last year, while markets await the start of a Group of 20 meeting in Russia.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index fell 1.18 percent, or 133.45 points, to 11,173.83 hours before G20 finance ministers gather for a weekend summit where Japan's controversial monetary policy will figure prominently.

On Friday, Japan's industrial production for December was revised down slightly to 2.4 percent from a preliminary 2.5 percent.

The figures came a day after separate data showed the world's third-largest economy contracted for a third straight quarter by the end of December, underscoring the size of the job ahead for Japan's new government and its pledge to revive the country's fortunes.

Major exporters were down on the stronger yen with Sony off 1.86 percent to 1,313 yen, while Nissan fell 0.10 percent at 932 yen and Canon was down 1.50 percent to 3,265 yen.

Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal, the world's second-biggest steelmaker, was off 1.94 percent at 252 yen.

Brewer Asahi rose 0.28 percent to 2,131 yen, a day after saying it launched legal action in Australia against two private equity firms over claims it overpaid in a $1.3 billion takeover of New Zealand's Independent Liquor in 2011.

The Hong Kong index gained 0.13 percent, or 31.31 points, to 23,444.56 while Seoul ended flat, edging up 1.57 points to 1,981.18.

Sydney also finished flat, nudging down 3.0 points to 5,033.9, although it is still sitting around 34-month highs.

Shanghai and Taipei are closed for the Lunar New Year Holiday.

Investor confidence was hit by news that recession in the 17-nation eurozone deepened sharply in the final three months of 2012 as the debt crisis continued to sap growth.

The eurozone economy shrank 0.6 percent in the three months to December, which compared with a contraction of 0.1 percent in the previous quarter, according to official data.

In the second quarter of 2012, it contracted 0.2 percent, meaning that the recession has now lasted three quarters. The eurozone had meanwhile registered zero growth in the first quarter of last year.

Analysts said the latest figures were worse than expected, with the major economies, including powerhouse Germany, also dragged down.

For 2012 as a whole, the eurozone economy contracted 0.5 percent and the wider 27-member European Union by 0.3 percent.

"We're sort of desensitised to a certain extent to a proper knee-jerk reaction, but given soft leads from Europe, it's led to declines in Asia," said Jason Hughes, head of premium client management at IG Markets in Singapore.

On currency markets, the euro weakened to $1.3328 and 123.14 yen, from $1.3385 and 124.10 yen in New York.

The dollar also skidded to 92.37 yen from 92.87 yen, with the Japanese unit pulling back some of its recent losses ahead of the G20 meeting in Moscow that is expected to focus on a growing currency row.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 leading economies will meet from Friday as Tokyo comes under attack, mostly from Europe, over its monetary policy of big spending, which has pushed down the yen.

The Bank of Japan, under pressure from the new government, last month unveiled a plan for unlimited monetary easing and a target for two percent inflation.

The moves, which had been expected, added to the yen's weakness and sparked charges of manipulation from around the world and fuelled fears of a currency war where rival nations drive down their currencies to gain a trade advantage.

On Thursday Japan's Asahi daily, citing a copy of a draft joint statement, reported that the G20 would warn members off any competitive currency devaluations.

"Ahead of the G20 meeting, caution is emerging over the yen's outlook," Hiroichi Nishi, general manager of equity at SMBC Nikko Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Wall Street provided an anaemic lead, despite two giant mergers, including that of American Airlines and US Airways to create the largest American carrier.

Heinz also made a shock announcement that billionaire Warren Buffett's investment firm Berkshire Hathaway would partner 3G Capital to buy the ketchup maker in a $28 billion deal.

The Dow edged down 0.07 percent, the S&P 500 edged up 0.07 percent and the Nasdaq nudged 0.06 percent higher.

Oil prices were lower, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March falling 24 cents to $97.07 a barrel, while Brent North Sea crude for April delivery shedding 35 cents to $117.65.

Gold was at $1,632.20 at 0820 GMT, compared with $1,643.25 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Manila gained 0.13 percent, or 8.23 points, to 6,521.64.

Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. gained 0.53 percent to 112 pesos while SM Investment Corp. fell 1.00 percent to 987 pesos.

-- Wellington ended 1.00 percent lower, sliding 42.46 points to 4,196.74.

Auckland Airport slumped 5.78 percent to NZ$2.77, Fletcher Building was off 1.77 percent at NZ$8.87 and Telecom was steady at NZ$2.22.