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Asian shares mixed, Nikkei down

Asian stock markets were mixed on Tuesday, with Tokyo falling for a
second straight day as fresh concerns emerged over a meltdown at
Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.
A pedestrian gazes at a share prices board in Tokyo. Asian stock
markets were mixed on Tuesday, with Tokyo falling for a second straight
day as fresh concerns emerged over a meltdown at Japan’s stricken
Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Jitters among already cautious traders were made worse when it
emerged late Monday that plutonium had been detected in soil at the
plant while highly contaminated water has leaked from a reactor,
fanning environmental fears.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial
Safety Agency, said the detection of plutonium suggested “certain
damage to fuel rods”, in comments carried by Kyodo News.
The Nikkei, which had fallen 1.47 percent in the morning, bounced
back in the afternoon session as worries about the plant eased and
dealers bought on upbeat jobs data and renewed optimism about the US
economy.
The index ended the day just 0.21 percent, or 19.45 points, lower at 9,459.08.
“The market has digested the plutonium (contamination) news, and the
bottom is supported by seemingly solid US economic recovery prospects,”
said Tatsunori Kawai, chief strategist at kabu.com.
Shanghai closed 0.87 percent, or 25.93 points, lower at 2,958.08 and Hong Kong ended flat, edging down 7.83 points to 22,060.36.
Sydney added 0.47 percent, or 22.2 points, to end at 4,755.8 and Seoul gained 0.77 percent, or 15.74 points, to 2,072.13.
Radiation worries have disrupted efforts to restart the cooling
systems of the Fukushima No.1 plant, which was battered by a huge
earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
Shares in Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which operates the plant,
tumbled 18.67 percent to stand at less than a third of their value
before the crisis.
TEPCO shares were also hit by a report that the government was
considering temporarily nationalising it to help the utility’s
corporate reconstruction.
“Investors are starting to price in the worst-case scenario”
including the possible delisting of TEPCO’s shares, Hideyuki Ishiguro,
a strategist at Okasan Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.
However, in some good news for the Japanese economy data showed
unemployment unexpectedly fell in February to a two-year low of 4.6
percent, from 4.9 percent in January. The jobless rate is at its lowest
since February 2009, when it stood at 4.5 percent.
Regional investors were also given support by confidence in the US
economy after fourth quarter growth in the world’s biggest economy was
revised up to 3.1 percent from the previous estimate of 2.8 percent.
That came as a senior Fed official said its monetary policy should
be tightened soon, adding to the belief that recovery is on track.
Eyes are also on key government payrolls figures to be released in Washington on Friday.
On currency markets the dollar fetched 81.60 yen in afternoon Asian
trade, down from 81.69 yen in New York late Monday while the euro edged
up to 115.27 yen, from 115.22 yen.
The euro changed hands at $1.4123, up from $1.4089 Monday.
Crude prices dipped as Libyan rebels, emboldened by Western air
strikes, marched on dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s home city of Sirte,
analysts said.
New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May
dipped 11 cents to $103.87 per barrel and Brent North Sea crude for May
delivery lost 23 cents to $114.57.
A stronger greenback makes dollar-denominated commodities more expensive for those using other currencies.
Gold closed at $1,418.00-$1,419.00 an ounce in Hong Kong, unchanged from Monday’s close.
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