The Washington Post

Asian stocks remain volatile on Europe debt fears

Asian stocks extended their volatility early Thursday, dipping early and then recovering slightly, as markets faced increased concern about the debt crisis in Europe.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index opened down 1.84 percent, but it rose gradually after that, closing the day at 8,981.94 points, down 0.63 percent, dropping below the key 9,000 benchmark. The losses wiped out the modest gains of Wednesday’s trading session.

South Korea’s Kospi opened the day down 3.9 percent, but closed at 1, 817.44, up 0.62 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 jumped into positive territory in the middle of the day, reaching up 4.1 percent, but ended the day down 0.09 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index closed at 19,595.14, down 0.95 percent.

Analysts have predicted that markets could show dramatic fluctuations as they come to grips with the scope of a looming global economic downturn.

The latest marketplace turmoil came in the wake of Wednesday’s trading on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 4.62 percent. That, coupled with sharp European losses and fears about a potential French credit rating downgrade, caused Asian traders to aggressively trade off bank shares and unload stocks of exporters such as Toyota and Canon.

The Nikkei has dropped more than 8 percent since Friday. The index was most recently above the 10,000 mark on July 27.

The global economic concerns have caused a bedeviling problem for Japan’s export-dependent businesses, with the yen strengthening against the dollar despite government attempts to lower its value. Thursday, the yen was valued at 76.76 against the dollar — within reach of its post-World War II high of 76.25.

Japan’s finance minister, Yoshihiko Noda, on Thursday again called the yen’s moves “one-sided,” noting that the currency’s strength did not reflect a true picture of the economy. The yen tends to appreciate during times of economic crisis, as traders view it as a safe haven. But that raises the prices on Japanese products sold overseas, and it also cuts profits for companies repatriating their foreign earnings.

Japan’s Finance Ministry sold about 4.5 trillion yen last Thursday in a solo currency intervention. That briefly weakened the yen to 80 on the dollar, but that move has been entirely canceled out in the past week.

“Yen appreciation does seem to be unendurable for the Japanese economy today,” said Naoyuki Haraoka, the executive managing director for the Japan Economic Foundation. “Anything more than 80 yen [on the dollar],that’s really difficult for the economy. I think the turmoil of the global economy will clearly hold back the Japanese economic recovery.”

Chico Harlan covers personal economics as part of The Post's financial team.

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