Asia stocks flat in holiday trading, Nikkei down

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Japan's benchmark stock index tumbled Monday after a central bank survey showed a smaller-than-expected improvement in business sentiment.

The Tankan index for the March quarter rose to minus 8 from minus 12 in December, a smaller improvement than analysts had anticipated. A reading below zero means pessimists outnumber optimists.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo declined 2.1 percent to 12,135.01. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.4 percent to 1,995.99. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines also fell.

Wall Street, reopening later Monday after a three-day holiday, looked set for losses. Dow Jones industrial futures fell 0.1 percent to 14,481 and S&P 500 futures fell 0.2 percent to 1,559.80. Investors are waiting for the release of U.S. manufacturing figures for March and construction spending for February.

Markets in mainland China were mixed after an industry group released a survey showing an increase in manufacturing growth in March. Despite the improvement in factory output, analysts said investors remained worried about a possible property bubble, inflation and what policies the new Chinese government might have in store.

"Faced with the fear of the unknown, investors both domestic and foreign are very cautious and preferring other markets where there is less risk," said Andrew Sullivan of Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.1 percent to 2,234.40. The Shenzhen Composite Index rose 0.6 percent to 933.69. Markets in Australia and Hong Kong were closed for an extended Easter weekend holiday.

Among individual stocks, Tokyo Electric Power Co. jumped 4.3 percent after the utility announced it will join Hitachi Ltd. to set up a new company to export electricity systems, Kyodo News said.

Stock markets in Europe were closed Friday for the holiday and remain so on Monday. It will not be until Tuesday that investors will see how markets react to events in Cyprus, where banks reopened Thursday for the first time in nearly two weeks.

As part of a bailout deal, Cyprus agreed to seize funds from big depositors. Banks have been closed to avoid a rush of withdrawals.

Big depositors at Cyprus' largest bank may be forced to accept losses of up to 60 percent, far more than initially estimated under the European rescue package to save the country from bankruptcy, officials said Saturday.

The move drew immediate criticism, with some analysts saying that imposing bigger losses on Bank of Cyprus customers could further squeeze already crippled businesses as Cyprus tries to rebuild its banking sector in exchange for the international rescue package.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down 44 cents to $96.79 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 65 cents to close at $97.23 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday. The market was closed Friday for the holiday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2815 from $1.2822 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 93.56 yen from 94.13 yen.

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