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Asian Markets Close the Year with Losses - 2002-12-27

Asian investors won little holiday cheer Friday, with most markets ending lower. The troubled Japanese economy along with concerns about war in Iraq and the nuclear standoff in North Korea dampened the mood.

2002 will be remembered in many Asian countries as a year that brought hard times to investors. Most markets across the region have suffered steep losses, with some continuing the trend in the last trading week of the year.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Stock Average ended flat at 8714, after a report showed factory output fell for the third consecutive month. The Nikkei is hovering near a 19 year low, with investors deeply worried about Japan's economic slump.

Among the day's worst losers was tire maker Bridgestone, which lost four percent on worries that its profits will decline in the new year.

The Japanese yen also lost ground Friday, trading at 120 to the dollar after Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa repeated a pledge that Japan would take action, if its currency strengthens. A strong yen makes Japanese exports more expensive for overseas buyers, and can dent many companies' sales.

Currency analyst Hideki Naito of ratings agency Standard and Poor's predicts the yen will strengthen as the dollar weakens in the coming weeks. He adds that Japanese monetary authorities are likely to intervene to sell the yen, if it becomes much stronger.

In Seoul, share prices fell more than two percent Friday, with the composite index closing at 656. Lingering concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program undermined investor sentiment. However, the market remains one of Asia's stronger performers for the year, overall.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell more than one percent to 9445. China Mobile closed lower on worries its competitors are luring away customers.

In the Philippines, the stock market managed to finish slightly higher Friday. Traders credit last minute bargain hunting as fund managers wrapped up business for the year ahead of a three day market holiday.

The Philippine Stock Exchange Index tacked on three tenths of one percent to reach 1018. The index ended the year with a loss of 13 percent.