Friday, January 18, 2013 12:51 pm
Markets struggle to hold onto gains
By PAN PYLASAP Business Writer
Investors have in recent day been cheered by signals showing the two world's largest economies started 2013 in rude health. Many stock indexes around the world, including the Dow, are trading near multiyear highs amid optimism over the world economy and hopes that Europe's debt crisis is slowly coming under control.
On Thursday, figures showing a drop in weekly U.S. jobless claims to a five-year low and a rebound in housing starts reignited the rally.
That buoyant backdrop carried through into the Asian session Friday and was accentuated by figures showing China's economy grew 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from the previous quarter's 7.4 percent and just ahead of predictions for a 7.8 percent rise. Industrial production and retail sales figures also came in better than expected.
Investors reined in their enthusiasm by the end of trading in Europe, however, as some seemed to cash in on the recent gains ahead of the weekend.
In Europe, Germany's DAX fell 0.4 percent to 7,702.23 while the CAC-40 in France lost 0.1 percent to 3,741.58. Britain's FTSE 100 held on to a 0.4 percent gain to close at 6,154.41.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.1 percent at 13,581.37 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.2 percent to 1,477.47. Both indexes closed Thursday at their highest levels in five years.
The impact from positive earnings from Morgan Stanley and General Electric was offset by weaker results from Intel and a softer than anticipated consumer confidence survey from the University of Michigan.
Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 soared 2.9 percent to close at 10.913.30, the highest finish in nearly three years, as the yen slipped against the dollar.
For a while, the dollar was trading above the 90-yen line for the first time since June 2010 as expectations intensified that the Bank of Japan will take steps to ease credit next week. A weaker yen is a significant boost for Japan's powerhouse exporters. By late afternoon London time, the dollar was up 0.1 percent at 89.99 yen.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.1 percent to 23,601.78 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.7 percent to 1,987.85. In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.4 percent to 2,317.07 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 1.5 percent to 935.7
Oil prices were subdued following recent strong gains, with the benchmark New York rate down 25 cents at $95.24 a barrel. On Thursday, the contract gained $1.25 to finish at $95.49 a barrel, its highest close since last September.
Elsewhere, the euro, which has had a strong start to the year amid hopes that Europe's debt crisis has calmed for the time being, was down 0.5 percent on the day at $1.3311.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.