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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 11:27 pm

Asia stocks shaky on Japan trade deficit, Spain


Asian stock markets struggled for direction Thursday as investors remained wary following more unsettling news from economically fragile Spain and a record trade deficit in Japan.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock average slipped after the country - which for decades has blanketed the world with its exports - posted its biggest annual trade deficit ever.

The benchmark index fell 0.6 percent to 9,609.89 after the Finance Ministry said exports for the fiscal year that ended March 31 dropped 3.7 percent from the previous year, while imports climbed 11.6 percent.

The trade deficit for the year was 4.41 trillion yen ($54 billion). With all but one of Japan's 54 nuclear power reactors offline in the aftermath of last year's nuclear disaster, the country has been forced to rely on imported oil and gas to generate electricity.

South Korea's Kospi index opened higher then slipped into negative territory, falling 0.2 percent to 2,002.75.

But Hong Kong's Hang Seng index held onto its gains, rising 0.4 percent to 20,865.11 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.4 percent to 4,365.90.

Benchmarks in mainland China, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines fell, while Singapore and Taiwan rose.

The Bank of Spain said the amount of bad loans held by Spanish banks rose to an 18-year high in February. If those banks falter, it would put pressure on Spain's already troubled government to prop them up.

The next key indicator for Spain will occur Thursday when the country holds a 10-year bond auction.

Spain's problems have added to ongoing worries about global economic growth because China's economy also is slowing.

Wall Street fell Wednesday on concerns about Europe's debt crisis. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.6 percent to 13,032.75. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.4 percent to 1,385.14. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.4 percent to 3,031.45.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 10 cents to $102.77 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract declined $1.53 to finish at $102.67 per barrel on Wednesday.

In currency trading, the euro fell to $1.3120 from $1.3133 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 81.46 yen from 81.24 yen.