Asia stocks muted on Koreas, bird flu jitters

Asian stock markets were mixed Monday amid concerns about tensions on the Korean Peninsula and bird flu in China, but European stocks rose as traders looked ahead to corporate earnings season in the U.S.The Nikkei in Tokyo, meanwhile, piled on more gains as the yen’s dramatic fall boosted the country’s powerhouse export sector. The Japanese yen has weakened sharply in the aftermath of a surprise decision Thursday by the Bank of Japan to overhaul its monetary policy in a bid to snap Japan out of years of deflation.
The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shot up 2.8 percent to close at 13,192.59, its highest close since August 2008. The dollar vaulted to 98.56 yen from 94.13 yen late Friday in New York. A weaker currency can help make Japanese exports more price competitive in overseas markets. Suzuki Motor Corp. surged 8.1 percent. Sharp Corp. advanced 7.3 percent.
European stocks rose in early trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 advanced 0.4 percent to 6,276.88. Germany’s DAX rose 0.3 percent to 7,684.48 and France’s CAC-40 added 0.6 percent to 3,684.29. Wall Street appeared poised for a higher opening. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.2 percent to 14,516 and S&P 500 futures rose 0.3 percent to 1,550.40.
Aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. kicks off another U.S. earnings season when it reports first-quarter results Monday after the markets close. On Friday, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo report quarterly financial results.
Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.4 percent to close at 1,918.69, its lowest level since November 2012 as tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang remained high. North Korea has for weeks been threatening military or other action to punish South Korea and the U.S. for holding joint military drills.
“Compared to the past, the hostility of North Korea this time is extraordinary in some measures. In this regard, there is an impact to our financial markets to a certain degree,” Hyun Oh-seok, South Korea’s finance minister, told reporters. “We are closely monitoring the impact on financial markets and the economy.”
Foreign investors sold more South Korean stocks than they bought for the fourth straight session Monday, while the local currency lost value as investors see growing risks of war on the Korean Peninsula. The dollar rose to 1,140.10 won, its highest level since July 26.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index bounced between gains and losses as investors sized up the potential threat from an outbreak of a new bird flu strain that has sickened 21 people, killing six of them. All cases have been reported in the eastern part of China. The Hang Seng fell marginally to close at 21,718.05.
Health officials believe people are contracting the virus through direct contact with infected fowl and say there’s no evidence the virus is spreading easily between people.
“Bird flu and the North Korea situation are still dangling out there. Investors are not very bullish. They are waiting to see how these two things evolve,” said Jackson Wong, vice president of Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,905.50, with investors putting aside a worrisome U.S. jobs report to do some bargain-hunting among some recently beaten down shares.
U.S. employers added just 88,000 jobs in March, which was half the average of the previous six months. The closely watched report, issued Friday, was a letdown for investors who had become more optimistic about the economy after recent positive signs on housing.
Gold-related stocks rose as the price of the precious metal recovered. Newcrest Mining, Australia’s No. 1 gold miner, advanced 2 percent. Hong Kong-listed Zijin Mining Group added 2.1 percent.
Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 59 cents to $93.28 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 56 cents to close at $92.70 in New York on Friday.
The euro rose to $1.3010 from $1.2822. UNB

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