Asia stocks cool off following gains last week

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stocks cooled off Monday as some investors sold shares to lock in profits following recent rallies.

Stocks in Hong Kong, Australian and elsewhere surged last week after U.S. lawmakers passed a bill to avoid a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be known as the "fiscal cliff." Japan's Nikkei 225 got an additional boost from the yen's steady retreat against the dollar.

"It just seems like markets are entering a consolidation phase after recent gains," Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, said in a market commentary.

The Nikkei in Tokyo fell 0.9 percent to 10,592.30. The Hong Kong Hang Seng lost 0.2 percent to 23,299.09. South Korea's Kospi lost less than 0.1 percent to 2,010.55. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China also fell. Those in Indonesia and the Philippines rose.

Weakness in Australian's resource sector sent the S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney 0.1 percent lower to 4,717.30. Mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd. fell 1.7 percent. Newcrest Mining lost 1.2 percent.

South Korean and Taiwanese companies that were fined by China last week for fixing prices of LDC display screens saw their stocks tumble Monday. Taiwan's AU Optronics Corp. fell 5.1 percent. HannStar Display Corp. fell 4.7 percent. South Korea's LG Display fell 2.4 percent.

The display-manufacturing arms of Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc., along with four Taiwanese companies, were ordered to pay 144 million yuan ($22.8 million) in penalties plus repayment to Chinese customers and other charges. The action by China follows a crackdown on the industry by the U.S. and Europe.

Nearly all the world's mobile phones and personal computers are assembled in China, making it a major market for display screens and other components imported from South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian economies.

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department said employers added 155,000 jobs in December, showing that hiring held up during the tense fiscal negotiations in Washington. It also said hiring was stronger in November than first thought. The unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 percent.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.3 percent to 13,435.21. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.5 percent to 1,466.47, its highest level in five years. The Nasdaq composite index rose 1.09, or 0.04 percent, to 3,101.66.

Benchmark oil for February delivery fell 25 cents to $92.84 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 17 cents to close at $93.09 in New York on Friday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3037 from $1.3072 late Friday in New York. The dollar dropped to 87.84 yen from 88.13 yen.

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