Anxious investors hug sidelines

ASIAN markets closed mostly lower yesterday, with trading in Tokyo affected both by Easter holidays elsewhere and worries about the effect of higher US interest rates and falling Wall Street prices.

Tokyo's 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average fell 154.94 points or 0.81 per cent, closing at 19,122.22.

Share prices also fell in Singapore in extremely thin trading because of worries over US interest rates.

Declines on Wall Street were felt in Manila where the composite index closed lower. Trading was light in profit-taking following the market's strong rise last week.

In Kuala Lumpur, prices finished lower in thin trading in line with weaker regional markets.

Bangkok prices ended lower in thin trading because of concern over the domestic political situation.

BANGKOK The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) index fell 35.94 points or 2.92 per cent to close at 1,196.59 as fears of parliament dissolution heightened.

Some 38.6 million shares worth 2.8 billion baht changed hands.

Winners were nowhere to be seen, with 277 issues down compared with 18 rises and 74 closed unchanged.

Speculation that the government would be forced to dissolve parliament spread as government spokesmen Abhisit Vejjajeva indicated other alternatives were nearing exhaustion.

Losses were felt across the board as the index fell below the 1,200-point psychological barrier, one broker said.

The finance sector was hardest hit, followed by banking and property.

BOMBAY STOCKS closed mostly higher on purchases by domestic mutual funds seeking to raise prices and thus the value of their assets.

Turnover remained light, however, because of a continuing stalemate between brokers and the market regulators over a new system of rolling over trades, brokers said.

The Bombay stock exchange index rose 2.12 points or 0.05 per cent, to 3,781.01 and the national index gained 14.72 points, or 0.80 per cent, to 1,844.25.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) on March 15 introduced a system that allows trades to be rolled over for only 90 days, when deliveries must take place. JAKARTA THE stock exchange's Composite Index fell 6.47 points, closing at 485.91.

KUALA LUMPUR PRICES ended lower as investors, nervous about the performance of Wall Street, liquidated their holdings through the day.

The key Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) composite index ended 31.61 points lower at 928.33 against Friday's 959.94.

Dealers said the market is jittery about the effect of the sharp fall in US bond prices last week on the US stock market.

Bond prices plummeted after the release of robust March jobs growth on Friday.

The stock market in the US was closed on Friday for the Easter holiday.

''What is worrying is that share prices have been coming off but the selling still hasn't tapered off and has been maintained at these levels,'' said one chief dealer with local brokerage.

Dealers said news of a sharp fall in the Dow Jones index could lead to another flurry of selling in the market today.

''The investors are all very jittery and there are still a number of panic sellers in the market,'' said one dealer.

The weakened market should open up strong buying opportunities and fuel a possible rebound in the second half of the year when a general election is expected, merchant bankers Merrill Lynch said in its recent analysis of the market.

''We believe the market is likely to trade within a range of 950 points to 1,100 points until fresh leads appear,'' said Lai Kwok-kin, a senior analyst with Merrill Lynch.

Speculation has been rife that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will call for parliamentary polls in the second half of the year, although the present government's five-year term of office expires at the end of 1995.

Analysts warned investors to be prepared for a bumpy road ahead for the market over the short run as no sign had emerged of a quick rebound although market fundamentals were still intact.

Losers outnumbered gainers 379 to 18 and 114.8 million shares worth $503.1 million were traded.

MANILA PRICES tumbled 2.1 per cent on profit-taking and a decline in other Asian markets.

The Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) composite index shed 57.8 points to settle at 2,653.7.

It gained three per cent last week just before the Easter holidays which began on Thursday.

''Basically, the downtrend in the Asian region influenced the local market's movement,'' said Jonas Ferrer, research manager with CityTrust Investment Bank.

''But sentiment is good now and we expect a mild rebound after two or three days,'' he said.

Mr Ferrer said mining stocks, which rose on a $5 improvement in gold prices abroad, failed to boost the market as index-movers led by beer and manufacturing group San Miguel Corp, power retailer Manila Electric Co and broadcaster ABS-CBN led the losers.

Oil counters were also down, he said.

Meanwhile, PSE president Eduardo De los Angeles said he hoped that the electronic merger of the country's two rival stock exchanges last month would double the market capitalisation to US$64 billion by the end of the year.

SEOUL PRICES on the Korea Stock Exchange rose on speculation the government will implement measures to boost the market.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index rose 5.1 points or 0.6 per cent, to close at 860.47 on trading volume of 29.5 million shares. On Saturday, the key index fell 7.78 points to 845.83.

Investors bid up the price of blue chips shares on speculation that the government would loosen rules it imposed to curb inflation that caused stock prices to fall, traders said.

A 3.3 per cent gain in the consumer prices so far this year led the government to require institutional investors to invest in government bonds, which forced them to pull money out of the stock market.

The price of 448 shares fell, 324 rose and 76 issues closed unchanged.

The benchmark increased because most gainers were blue chip shares that are heavily weighted on the index.

In contrast to the investors who bid up the price of blue chips, stock analysts said they believed the government was unlikely to take action to stimulate the market, which has seen its benchmark index decline about 10 per cent during the past two months.

''The government is more concerned about curbing high inflation,'' said Chang Eui Jong, a trader at Coryo Securities Co.

SINGAPORE PRICES ended lower in sympathy with the weak US bond market and a lack of buying support, dealers said.

''The sentiment has been hurt by a weak bond market and the closure of the Hong Kong stock market,'' said Margaret Woo, Phillip Securities Dealing Director. ''Funds based in Hong Kong stayed away from buying,'' she said.

The 30-share Straits Times Industrials index ended at 2,039.12, down 41.78 points or 2.01 per cent, off the day's high of 2,085.05.

Declines overwhelmed rises by 310 to just 18 on modest volume of 110.12 million shares.

Malaysia's industrial Golden Plus, Singapore's Resources Development and Hong Leong Credit were the top losers, each losing between S$1.38 and 70 cents.

TOKYO STOCKS ended down from their previous close as active unwinding in arbitrage long positions in the morning hit cash prices.

But the Nikkei average managed to finish up from the midday close as arbitrage-linked selling slowed in the afternoon.

The absence of foreign investors - who have been active buyers in this year's rally - due to the Easter holidays accelerated yesterday's falls, they said.

The Nikkei closed down 154.94 points or 0.8 per cent at 19,122.22 on estimated volume of only 230 million shares.

Steep falls in the June Standard and Poor's 500 stock index futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange at the start of Globex trade spurred selling at the Tokyo open, brokers said.

News about tension over North Korean nuclear inspections also kept buyers on the sidelines, they said.

The Nikkei average dipped below 19,000 from time to time, but unidentified buyers helped to push it back above that level.

Some brokers suggested that public pensions and insurance funds placed the orders, but others said life insurers were the buyers.

There was little buying other than such sporadic purchases all through the day, brokers said.

''The Tokyo stock market is like Japanese professional baseball. Both of them depend too much on foreign players,'' a broker at Ichiyoshi Securities said.

Investors would carefully monitor movements on Wall Street, brokers said.

The broader TOPIX index ended 10.8 points or 0.69 per cent down at 1,560.38 points, and the Nikkei 300 index closed 1.9 points down at 285.21.

Losers outpaced winners by about three to one, with 754 issues lower, 254 higher and 163 unchanged.

The warehouse, fishery, shipping, mining and gas sectors were major decliners.

The credit-lease and precision instrument sectors were the only gainers.

Mitsui Real Estate Sales Co rose on news that Nomura Research Institute has upgraded its share price rating on the realtor.

The second section ended down 10.1 points at 2,191.15. THE Taipei, Sydney and Wellington markets were closed yesterday.