Asian shares in check amid Japan GDP slump

May 18, 2011 - 11:13 PM

BANGKOK (AP) — Signs that Japan may be slipping toward recession muted the effects of a rally on Wall Street to keep Asian shares in check Thursday.

Oil prices hovered near $100 a barrel in Asia, while the dollar weakened against the euro and the yen.

Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1 percent to 9,651.17 after the government announced that its earthquake-battered economy had contracted sharply in the first quarter, a result of the quake and tsunami on March 11 that hobbled the country's industrial northeast, wiping out factories that produce crucial parts and supplies for the country's manufacturers.

Real gross domestic product shrank at an annualized rate of 3.7 percent in the January-March period, the second straight quarter that the world's No. 3 economy has lost steam. Some economists say two consecutive quarters of contraction indicate recession, although there is no fixed definition. Other economists consider the depth of the decline and other indicators like unemployment.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 percent to 23,241.43, with China Garments Co. Ltd. soaring 7 percent.

Australia's S&P ASX 200 rose 1.4 percent to 4,757.90, with mining shares making notable gains. BHP Billiton, the world's largest miner, was 1.5 percent higher; Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. jumped 2.1 percent.

Singapore's FTSE Strait Times Index was 0.6 percent higher at 3,159.68 after the government raised its 2011 economic growth forecast. The Trade and Industry Ministry said it expects gross domestic product to expand between 5 percent and 7 percent, 1 percentage point more than the government's previous forecast.

South Korea's Kospi index slipped 0.2 percent to 2,131.12, with tech shares such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. down 0.4 percent and Hynix Semiconductor Inc. slipping 0.8 percent.

Airline shares also slid due to the rise in crude prices, which makes fuel more expensive. Hong Kong-listed China Southern Airlines Co. Ltd. plunged 4 percent. Taiwan's EVA Airways Corp. was 1.5 percent down.

On Wall Street, widespread gains in commodity prices lifted energy and materials companies as part of a broad stock market rally Wednesday after three days of declines. Sentiment was also helped by the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting that suggested the U.S. economy is improving.

The Dow Jones industrial average added 0.6 percent to close at 12,560.18. The S&P index rose 0.9 percent to 1,340.68. The Nasdaq composite gained 1.1 percent to 2,815.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was up 20 cents to $100.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $3.19, or 3.3 percent, to settle at $100.10 on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro traded at $1.4303 from $1.4226 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar stood at 81.56 yen from 81.63 yen.