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Japanese stocks dip ahead of earnings

STOCKS dipped today in Japan, the only major Asian market open today amid a slew of regional holidays, as investors braced for key earning results this week from Sony, Honda and other major names.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average edged down 0.2 percent to 7,728.28 in afternoon trading after tumbling 3.8 percent to a two-month low on Friday. The broader Topix index was virtually flat.

US stock index futures were down, suggesting Wall Street would open lower today. On Friday, investors' ambivalence about earnings reports produced a mixed performance on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrials falling 0.56 percent to 8,077.56, but broader stock indicators rising.

Markets in Hong Kong, Chinese mainland, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan were closed for the Lunar New Year holidays. Trading in Australia and India was also off due to national holidays.

Battered by the global slump, Japan's big exporters have been slashing production, earnings forecasts and jobs, and stock prices have fallen accordingly. Investors will be watching for new earnings downgrades for the fiscal year, which runs through March.

"Markets have been pricing in poor earnings results for awhile now," said Tomochika Kitaoka, a strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

Sony Corp., which last week projected its first annual net loss in 14 years, reports fiscal third quarter results Thursday, followed by Honda Motor Co. on Friday.

But Nomura Holdings Inc., which reports Tuesday, jumped 3.1 percent on hopes that Japan's top brokerage finished writing off costs related to its purchase of failed US investment bank Lehman Brothers' operations in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The issue rose despite weekend news reports that third quarter losses at Japan's top brokerage could total a worse-than-expected 300 billion yen (US$3.4 billion) for the October-December period.

Among stock markets open in the region, Thailand's benchmark index rose 0.5 percent to 435.59 and the Philippines' key index was up 0.7 percent to 1,869.92. New Zealand's market ended flat at 2,705.746.

Australia's market, closed for Australia Day, will reopen tomorrow, as will trading in India, which was observing Republic Day.

Markets in Singapore and South Korea will reopen Wednesday, and Hong Kong's markets will reopen Thursday. Trading in Chinese mainland and Taiwan will be closed all week and resume February 2.

In foreign exchange, the dollar was trading slightly lower at 89.20 yen. The euro stood little changed at US$1.2936.


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