Asia Stocks Fall As China Inflation Disappoints

Published January 12, 2012 6:18AM (EST)

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly lower Thursday, amid inflation data in China that failed to meet expectations and fears of a possible recession in Europe.

Benchmark oil rose above $101 per barrel while the dollar fell against the euro and the yen.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Index fell 0.7 percent to 8,386.30, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was nearly unchanged at 19,149. Australia's S&P ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent to 4,181. Benchmarks in mainland China were mixed while Taiwan and Indonesia were lower.

South Korea's Kospi added 0.6 percent to 1,856.10. Benchmarks in Singapore and Thailand also rose.

Data released Thursday showed China's inflation eased slightly in December to 4.1 percent, from November's 4.2 percent. But analysts had hoped to see more improvement.

"Chinese inflation is less than expectations, so the market is a little disappointed that it did not fall below 4 percent," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong. "I think we can say the worst of inflation is over for now, but what looms over the horizon may not be good."

Politically sensitive food costs accelerated to 9.1 percent from November's 8.8 percent, making it problematic for Beijing to take steps to stimulate slowing economic growth. The December rise in Chinese food costs was driven by a 21.3 percent jump in the price of pork, the country's staple meat, and a 6.9 percent jump in grain prices.

Analysts blame the price surge on strong consumer demand and the flood of money from Beijing's multibillion-dollar stimulus that helped China rebound quickly from the 2008 global economic crisis.

Meanwhile, growth problems in Europe continued to spook investors. Germany reported Wednesday that its economy shrank slightly at the end of last year. And the European Union revised its figures for economic growth in the third quarter to 0.1 percent, its slowest pace in more than two years.

A recession on the continent could slam many export-reliant Asian companies, which are already battered by weak global demand. In Japan, Toyota Motor Corp. fell down 1.4 percent and Nissan Motor Corp. lost 1.6 percent. Electronics giant Sharp Corp. dropped 2.7 percent. Panasonic Corp. shed 2.3 percent.

China's export growth has fallen steadily since August, raising the threat of more bankruptcies and job losses among struggling exporters. Industry indicators show manufacturing and export orders contracted in November and December and growth in China's imports of raw materials showed an unexpectedly sharp decline in December.

Shares of Indian outsourcing giant Infosys fell 6.8 percent, after the company said the global economic slowdown and chaos in Europe would hurt growth.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 13.02 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 12,449.45. The S&P 500 gained marginally to 1,292.48. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 0.3 percent to 2,710.76.

In energy trading, benchmark crude for February deliver rose 44 cents to $101.31 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.37 to end at $100.87 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

The euro rose to $1.2719 from $1.2697 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 76.85 yen from 76.87 yen.

By Salon Staff

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