BANGKOK (AP) — Disappointing news about Germany's economy sent Asian stock markets down on Friday.
Europe's biggest economy contracted a worse-than-expected 0.6 percent in the last quarter of 2012 as recession deepened across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro. It was Germany's worst performance since early 2009, amid a global recession.
The worry for European policymakers is that output is declining beyond weaker, debt-laden economies like Greece and Spain. France, Europe's second-biggest economy, also suffered a drop in output. "A number of analysts have been making the case for quite some time now that the worst in Europe is probably behind us. However the steepness of the contractions ... appears to have given markets pause," said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in an email commentary.
The slowdown in Europe was gloomy news for Asia, which depend on exports to the region to help drive their economies. Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 1.9 percent to 11,088.23. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.2 percent to 23,379.18. South Korea's Kospi was nearly unchanged at 1,979.78. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was slightly down at 5,035.20. Benchmarks in Singapore and New Zealand also fell. Mainland China and Taiwan were closed for Lunar New Year holidays.
Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, said the Hang Seng was pausing before markets on mainland China reopen Monday after a weeklong Chinese New Year holiday. "Analysts are expected a decent gain on the first day," he said, referring to mainland Chinese stocks. "I do expect a gain but not a huge gain. Chinese markets have been moving up steadily like the Hong Kong market. I believe they will continue this trend."
Japanese export shares, which have surged in recent weeks from a weakening yen, got hammered as the Japanese currency reversed course. Sony Corp. plunged 5.2 percent. Ricoh Co. plummeted 5.9 percent. Yamaha Motor Co. tumbled 6.6 percent.
Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto fell 2.5 percent after posting a $3 billion loss for 2012 after taking a $14 billion writedown from its aluminum business and the acquisition of a coal company in Mozambique.
Stocks ended little changed on Wall Street as a slowdown in Europe's economy overshadowed an encouraging report on the U.S. jobs market. The Labor Department on Thursday reported a sharp drop in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits. Weekly applications fell 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.1 percent to 13,973.39. The S&P 500 index edged up 0.1 percent to 1,521.38. The Nasdaq composite rose less than 0.1 percent to 3,198.66. Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 5 cents to $97.36 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 30 cents to finish at $97.31 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3358 from $1.3346 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 92.26 yen from 93.02 yen.
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