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    Tokyo plunges to 20-year low

    Friday, March 7, 2003 Posted: 4:24 AM EST (0924 GMT)

    Big exporters, including Toyota, closed lower in Friday trade.


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    TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Tokyo's stock market plunged to a fresh 20-year low Friday after U.S. President George W. Bush indicated that war in Iraq may be imminent.

    The key Nikkei 225 average tumbled 2.7 percent to finish at 8144.12, its lowest close since March 1983. Other Asian markets also skidded on war nerves.

    War would disrupt trade for Asia's export-driven economies, and higher oil prices would weigh on economic growth.

    As well, a weaker U.S. dollar hurts profits for big Japanese exporters such as Honda and Sony, which make a large part of their sales in the U.S. market.

    They bore the brunt of Friday's sell-down, with the big Japanese banks also falling sharply as the end of the financial year on March 31 approaches.

    Bush told a news conference in Washington he had not yet decided whether to invade Iraq, but said the U.N. Security Council would vote in a matter of days on a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing force against Iraq. (Full story)

    Responding to a question about the U.N's role, Bush said that when it came to the security of the United States, "we really don't need anybody's permission."

    Japan and other Asian markets reacted sharply to Bush's remarks, with every index in the region closing down.

    Japan had the heaviest percentage losses, with the broad Topix falling 2.46 percent to finish at 796.17. That was its lowest close since August 1984.

    Australia, Korea down

    Tokyo's Nikkei closed at 8144.12, its lowest level since March 1983.
    Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 1.15 percent to 2744.0, equivalent to a four-year low, and South Korea's Kospi lost almost 1.7 percent to close at 546.02, a level not seen since August 2001.

    Taiwan lost 1.07 percent to 4350.59. Singapore is testing four-year lows, down 1.4 percent to 1226 heading towards the close.

    Hong Kong's Hang Seng index showed a comparatively modest fall of about 0.6 percent to 8907 at the close.

    New Zealand was relatively insulated from the Asian fallout, the NZSE Top 50 easing 0.39 percent to 1902.49.

    Asia's poor performance follows that of Wall Street, where worries about Iraq and the economy punished stocks Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.3 percent and the Nasdaq composite lost 0.88 percent. (Full story)

    War nerves weighed heavily on Tokyo, where the biggest stock, mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo, fell 3.59 percent to 219,000 yen.

    Consumer electronics leader Sony fell 1.85 percent to 4250 yen, after touching a 17-month low of 4220 yen.

    Among tech-related stocks, Hitachi fell 4.75 percent to 461 yen and NEC lost 3.65 percent to 422 yen. Kyocera was also off, down 4.21 percent to 5910 yen.

    Carmaker Honda fell sharply, off 3.64 percent to 3970 yen. Nissan was down 1.57 percent to 816 yen, but No. 1 maker Toyota was only just in the red, down 0.71 percent.

    Among the big banks, UFJ Holdings plunged 5.67 percent, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group fell 3.0 percent and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group dropped 4.4 percent.

    There was no trade for Mizuho Holdings, which was removed from the Nikkei index Thursday and will be replaced next Thursday by Mizuho Financial Group.

    Also weighing on the Japanese market was a reported investigation into alleged stock manipulation by Nikko Salomon Smith Barney.

    South Korea slips
    In Seoul, big exporter Hyundai Motor ended down 1.13 percent to 21,850 won.

    Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics ended 1.81 percent higher at 281,000 won after it unveiled a large share buy-back plan. (Full story)

    SK Telecom fell 1.23 percent to 161,000 won and KT Corp lost 2.1 percent to 41,900 won.

    In Hong Kong, big bank stock HSBC is down about 0.3 percent, but telco PCCW is slipping 2 percent to HK$4.775.

    China Telecom is another heavy loser, down 2.86 percent to HK$1.36.

    Taiwan's Taiex fell 1 percent to 4350.59. But the market's biggest stock, chip foundry TSMC, rose 0.48 percent to T$41.60.

    In Australia, market leader News Corp fell 2.44 percent to A$9.58 and resources stocks BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both lost more than 3 percent.

    Telco Telstra closed 1.22 percent lower to A$4.06 after CEO Ziggy Switkowski denied a report that a deal had been reached with the banking syndicate to Reach, the Telstra-PCCW joint venture. (Full story)

    Insurer and funds manager AMP fell 3.7 percent to A$6.51, a record low .

    Singapore's Straits Times index was down 1.4 percent to 1226.15, close to its lowest since November 1998. Big banks were down, as were SingTel and Singapore Airlines.

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