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Asia Business Report: Japan Banks Report $21B Loss - 2002-05-27

Japan's largest banks have posted losses for the last fiscal year, and an international ratings agency is warning of difficult times for Hong Kong's real estate market.

Japan's mountain of bad debts continues to weigh on the country's banking industry. The nation's four largest banks reported losses Friday totaling more than $21 billion for last year, but are forecasting a return to profitability in 2002.

Mizuho Holdings, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, Mitsubishi-Tokyo Financial Group and UFJ Holdings blame bad loan write-offs for their poor results. A slumping stock market also hurt their performance, since Japanese banks invest heavily in Japanese shares.

Yoshifumi Nishikawa, president of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, says he is determined to continue with reforms. He adds that his bank will try to halve the amount of bad loans on its books as soon as possible.

The other three banks also report that they have increased efforts to move sour loans off their books amid intense government pressure. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made the reduction of bad loans in the banking industry a center of his economic reform plan, which aims to lift the country out of more than a decade-long slump.

International ratings agency Standard and Poor's has lowered its credit ratings on three of Hong Kong's property firms and revised its outlook on three others. S&P said in a statement that the companies are struggling with lower rents and property prices, persistent deflation and abundant vacant apartments.

Three companies had their ratings lowered by one notch: Hongkong Land, Swire Pacific and Hysan Development. S&P cut its outlook on Sun Hung Kai, Wharf and Kerry to negative from stable.

Cheung Kong, a diversified conglomerate and one of Hong Kong's biggest firms, was placed on S&P's credit watch list because of concerns that short-term factors might affect its rating. S&P says these include lower profitability and a difficult market environment.

China may impose tough new standards on cellular phone radiation in the world's largest market for mobile phones. Under draft regulations that are likely to be decided on later this year, Beijing would limit handset radiation emissions to half the levels that are permitted internationally.

If passed, the regulations would add on huge costs for phone manufacturers and force them to redesign some models. They could also exclude China from newer, more sophisticated handsets that deliver a wide range of voice and data services.