Asia Stocks Mostly Down Amid Profit-Taking

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(BANGKOK) — Asian stock markets were mostly lower Friday as traders took profits following strong gains and awaited the release of more economic data from the U.S.

Benchmark oil remained above $105 per barrel while the dollar rose against the yen and the euro.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index was slightly higher at 10,127.83 after morning profit-taking sent the benchmark into negative territory. The Nikkei has clocked a week of gains largely due to the yen's retreat from record highs against the dollar.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.3 percent to 21,293.75 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.2 percent to 2,040.48. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was slightly down at 4,276.20. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore and New Zealand fell. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed. Thailand and the Philippines rose.

Hong Kong stocks sagged a day after the Bank of Communications, China's fifth-largest lender, announced it will issue shares to meet requirements for capital adequacy by China's banking regulator.

The prospect of other banks possibly following suit made investors anxious, according to Francis Lun, managing director at Lyncean Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong.

"It is rumored that several other banks will follow," Lun said. Such actions mean "you will dilute existing shareholders: More shareholders, so you will get less in return."

Agricultural Bank of China lost 0.5 percent and Bank of China Ltd. fell 0.6 percent. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank by market value, shed 0.2 percent.

Investors also were pausing to evaluate the latest economic news out of the U.S. showing fewer claims for unemployment and an improvement in manufacturing.

The U.S. government said applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to 351,000 — matching a four-year low. That's a sign that the job market is improving.

In addition, manufacturing activity in New York rose to a 21-month high and in Philadelphia to a nearly one-year high, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Meanwhile, industrial production figures for February are due to be released later Friday.

"It takes time for investors to further gauge the US economic prospect before markets get excited again. Trading in Asia is likely to be in ranges today without much direction," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in an email.

Construction and property-related shares continued to slump following a pledge by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to maintain curbs on property to cool surging housing prices despite complaints they might worsen an economic slowdown.

China Resources Cement Holdings Ltd. fell 0.7 percent. China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd. lost 1.6 percent.

Companies that supply parts to Apple Inc. posted solid gains, Kyodo News agency said. Foster Electric gained 3 percent while Taiyo Yuden added 2.2 percent. Apple's latest iPad went on sale in Asia on Friday.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 42 cents to $105.53 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 32 cents to settle at $105.11 per barrel in New York on Thursday.

The euro fell to $1.3085 from $1.3097 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 83.53 from 83.38 yen. The greenback rose to as high as 84.175 yen overnight Thursday, its highest point against the yen since April 13.

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