Executive Business Briefing

Here is a look at Thursday's top business stories:

Tokyo snaps four-day losing streak


TOKYO, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange snapped their four-day losing streak Thursday, supported by strong gains in the banking sector.

Prices lost ground in Hong Kong, Seoul, South Korea and in Sydney, Australia. Markets in Taiwan were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday and will reopen on Feb. 18.

Japan's blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average of 225 selective issues, which lost 54.75 points Wednesday, rose 162.42 points, or 1.70 percent, to 9,583.27. The broader Topix index gained 18.73 points, or 2.0 percent, to 941.24.

Advances overwhelmed declines 868 to 452, while another 164 issues settled unchanged.

Volume rose to an estimated 788.03 million shares from 715.17 million shares changing hands Wednesday.

Analysts said the rebound was to be expected after a 6 percent slide since Friday.


Experts said a series of upcoming major events also fueled hopes of new steps to arrest Japan's economic decline and lifted share prices.

The Bank of Japan will announce its decision on policy Friday, followed by a meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations over the weekend. Later in February, U.S. President George W. Bush is slated to visit to Japan.

Local media reports on economic policy steps helped prompt hedge-fund operators as well as individuals trading via the Internet to cover short positions in major banks, dealers said.

National daily Mainichi Shimbun reported the Cabinet Office has started deliberations on a comprehensive plan to combat deflation that will focus on further monetary easing and stepped-up efforts to dispose of the nation's mountains of bad debt.

In trading, among some of the active banking issues, Mizuho Holdings climbed 19.5 percent, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking jumped 11.1 percent, UFJ Holdings climbed 12.8 percent and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group surged 14.5 percent.

Trading house Marubeni jumped 6.7 percent after saying it aims to accelerate its debt reduction plan.

Snow Brand Milk Products gained 5.8 percent after a local press report its business partner Itochu may consider providing the scandal-plagued dairy company with financial assistance if asked.


Softbank rose 7.1 percent after saying it will sell a portion of its U.S. unit's shareholdings in UTStarcom of U.S. in an effort to reduce its interest-bearing debt.

Nissan Motor rose 2.4 percent supported by strong January sales figures released Wednesday. Three Nissan models were among the top 10 models in domestic auto sales in the month.

In the high-tech sector, NEC Corp. rose 3.2 percent, Toshiba added 1.0 percent, Hitachi added 1.3 percent and Sony Corp. rose 3.2 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange ended lower as the market tracked Wednesday's losses on Wall Street and as investors squared their positions ahead of the Chinese New Year.

The blue-chip Hang Seng Index lost 182.71 points, or 1.72 percent, to 10,409.68, just above its worst level of the session of 10,393.83.

Analysts said market sentiment was weak, as some investors remain jittery after the Enron downfall, while others squared their positions ahead of the three-day Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, which begins next Tuesday.

In trading, Hutchison Whampoa lost 3.24 percent, China Mobile fell 2.49 percent, China Unicom slipped 1.33 percent and PCCW fell 3.17 percent.

Meanwhile, stocks ended lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange as foreign investors remained jittery over the prospects for a stock market recovery.


The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, fell 13.84 points, or 1.90 percent, to 727.71.

Declines outpaced advances 595 to 207, while another 47 stocks settled unchanged. Twenty-one stocks rose by the 15 percent daily limit and 15 stocks fell by the daily limit.

In trading, Hynix Semiconductor sank 5.8 percent as investors nervously awaiting results from alliance talks the memory-chip company is holding with Micron Technology and Infineon Technologies. Hynix's bigger rival, Samsung Electronics lost 1.3 percent.

Seoul's stock market will be closed from Monday to Wednesday for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Elsewhere around the Pacific region, prices ended lower on the Australian Stock Exchange, pressured by weakness in media and mining issues.

The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which dropped 24.70 points Wednesday, lost another 9.80 points, or 0.29 percent, to 3,361.80.

In trading, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. sank 1.6 percent as concerns continue to simmer over whether it will move on the heavily indebted Kirch Group of Germany.

Elsewhere in the media sector, Southern Cross Broadcasting tumbled 4.4 percent after key presenter Alan Jones defected from the group's Sydney radio station 2UE to rival 2GB.

Australia's only listed investment bank Macquarie Bank sank 3.4 percent, knocked down on news its European equity markets unit will report trading losses before operating expenses in fiscal 2001-02 ending March 31.


In an active banking sector, ANZ Banking gained 0.4 percent and Westpac Bank rose 0.7 percent.

Diversified miner WMC jumped more than 2 percent on fresh takeover speculation but, Normandy Mining slipped 2.0 percent, Lihir Gold slumped 3.8 percent and Newcrest Mining lost 4.4 percent.

Same store sales rise at Limited

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- The Limited Inc. said its same store sales for the four-week selling period ended Feb. 2 rose 6 percent for the same period a year earlier.

The retailer said its net sales dropped to $576.3 million from $766.2 million for the five-week period a year ago.

Limited said excluding sales from Lane Bryant and the extra week in January last year, the sales increase from the comparable four-week period last year was 11 percent.

The Limited, which will report fourth quarter earnings on Feb. 28, currently operates 1,997 specialty stores under the names Express, Lerner New York, Limited Stores, Structure and Henri Bendeltes. The company also owns approximately 84 percent of Intimate Brands, which operates under the Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works and White Barn Candle Co. names.

United Retail Group posts lower sales

ROCHELLE PARK, N.J., Feb. 7 (UPI) -- United Retail Group Inc. said its total sales for the four-week selling period ended Feb. 2 fell to $27.0 million from $31.5 million during the same period a year earlier.


Comparable store sales, or stores open one year, rose 5 percent.

Fiscal 2001 included 52 weeks versus 53 weeks in fiscal 2000. All comparable store sales calculations omit the additional week in the earlier year.

George R. Remeta, vice chairman and chief administrative officer, said, "There was one less week in fiscal January this year versus last year. Comparable store sales, which omit the extra week, are a more useful measure of sales than total sales figures. At year-end, average inventory per store at cost was approximately the same as a year ago."

Raphael Benaroya, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, "We are encouraged by our positive comparable store sales results for January. Our inventory position and the continuing progress of our new stores' sales provide the basis for an optimistic view for the coming year."

United Retail Group, which is a specialty retailer of large-size women's fashion apparel, footwear and accessories, currently operates 555 stores.

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