Asian stocks mixed after Wall Street decline

BEIJING: Asian stocks were mixed Tuesday following Wall Street's decline on lingering worries about high European debt levels.

Tokyo and Sydney were down while Shanghai and Hong Kong gained. Oil prices lingered below $72 a barrel while the dollar gained against the yen and slipped versus the euro.

The lackluster performance in regional markets came after the Dow Jones industrial average closed below 10,000 for the first time in three months on concerns that debt problems in weaker European economies, especially Greece, might spark problems for the global financial system.

"The overriding concern is Greece and what that means in a global sense," said Kirby Daley, senior strategist at Newedge Group in Hong Kong.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock average lost 0.2 percent, or 20.07 points, to 9,931.75 while Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.4 percent, or 16.3, to 4,505.1.

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.3 percent to 2,943.95 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was up 0.2 percent, or 35.30, at 19,586.19. Seoul's Kospi rose 0.9 percent, or 14.38, to 1,567.17.

Elsewhere, benchmarks in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines fell. Markets in Singapore, Taiwan and India eked out modest gains.

Investors worry that debt problems in Greece, a relatively small part of the European economy, could spread to the rest of the 16-nation bloc that uses the euro. Other countries being watched closely include Portugal and Spain.

Concern intensified last week, undermining the euro, after Portugal's lawmakers defeated the government over its deficit-reduction plan.

Asian stocks are so sensitive to the health of Western export and financial markets that analysts say even regional developments as severe as Toyota Motor Corp.'s struggles with a spate of safety problems have little impact.

"We are taking our lead from the U.S., and if there are no strong leads from the U.S., we will likely drift until there is a solution or an announcement that can put investors' minds at ease over what is happening in Europe," Daley said.

Trading in China has been listless this week as investors hunker down ahead of a weeklong closure of mainland exchanges for next week's Lunar New Year holiday.

The Dow fell 103.84, or 1 percent, to 9,908.39. On Thursday, the Dow traded below the symbolic barrier of 10,000 for the first time since November. It hadn't closed below that mark since Nov. 4.

Oil prices hovered below $72 a barrel in Asia with benchmark crude for March delivery down 11 cents at $71.78.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 89.38 yen from 89.17 yen. The euro gained to $1.3702 from $1.3650.