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Oil Prices Rise in Asia - 2003-02-14

The price of oil rose in Asian trading Friday amid concerns over a possible U.S. led attack on Iraq. U.S. light crude was trading at a 28-month high of more than $36.66 a barrel. Traders fear a war in Iraq, the world's eighth largest crude exporter, could disrupt oil flows from other Middle East producers as well.

Concerns over Iraq also dampened sentiment on some of Asia's stock markets. But it was a different story in Japan, where exporters such as Honda and Sony drove stocks to their biggest weekly gain in nearly two months. Investors bought export-oriented stocks after the government said overseas sales helped boost growth in the fourth quarter of the year.

Japan's gross domestic product rose half-a-percent in the fourth quarter from the third quarter, defying expectations that it would shrink. Economy Minister Heizo Takenaka said the figure shows that Japan's economy is stable, but warned that problems such as deflation persist. The Nikkei Average gained 1 percent to close at 8,701.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose a third of one percent. Banking giant HSBC closed more than 1 percent higher and trading company Li & Fung jumped 4 percent. Those companies, which both do business in the United States, benefited from a report showing U.S. retail sales rose more than 1 percent last month.

In Singapore, the Straits Times advanced nearly half a percent with technology-related shares ending higher on signs that demand for computers may pick up.

But Iraq jitters dominated elsewhere. Taiwan shares ended at their lowest this year. The benchmark index of the Taiwan Stock Exchange closed down a fraction at 4,493.

In the Philippines, the most active stock was Philippine Long Distance Telephone, which lost 3 percent as investors took profits. The overall market lost more than half a percent to end at 1,033. One trader described sentiment as negative.