Asian stocks flat, Japan backs off from high

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Associated Press

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 12:30 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 7 at 12:32 AM

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stock markets mostly held steady on Thursday but Japanese stocks slid as investors took profits following a huge rally the day before.

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.8 percent to 11,374.26 as investors cashed in their gains after the benchmark rose to its highest since Sept. 2008 in the previous session. The rally was sparked by the weakness of the yen, which hit a three-year low against the dollar. The currency regained some strength on Thursday, with the dollar buying 93.41 yen, down from 93.68 yen the day before.

In other Asian markets, South Korea's Kospi edged down less than 0.1 percent to 1,934.33 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng retreated 0.4 percent to 23,160.69. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China lost 0.8 percent to 2,416.05 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 0.2 percent to 953.26. Benchmarks in New Zealand and Singapore also fell but Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,936.80.

"Markets appear to be entering into a more nervous period" as investors take stock following recent gains, strategists at Credit Agricole CIB wrote in a note to clients. Complicating factors include upcoming elections in Italy, currency frictions, deadlock in the U.S. over spending cuts or "simply a market that has overtaken reality."

Shares of News Corp. fell 0.5 percent in Sydney after the media conglomerate cut its forecast for annual earnings, citing underperformance at several businesses including its Fox broadcast network.

U.S. stocks were flat on Wednesday as the latest earnings reports failed to impress investors. The Dow Jones industrial average rose less than 0.1 percent to 13,986.52 and the Standard & Poor's 500 rose less than 0.1 percent to 1,512.12. The Nasdaq composite was 0.1 percent lower at 3,168.48

In energy markets, benchmark crude for March delivery was up 14 cents to $96.76 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 2 cents to end at $96.62 on Wednesday.

The euro weakened to $1.3504 from $1.3525 in late trading Wednesday.

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