Asian Stocks Drop to a Two-Week Low; Inpex, Fortescue Decline

Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) — Asian stocks fell to a two-week low, after Inpex Corp. cut its profit forecast, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. said iron-ore shipments may drop, and commodity prices slumped, pointing to a worsening outlook for global economies.

Inpex, Japan’s largest energy explorer, and Cnooc Ltd. retreated more than 3 percent as oil traded near a 20-month low. Fortescue, Australia’s third-largest iron-ore producer, plunged 10 percent. Hana Financial Group Inc. tumbled 13 percent in Seoul after Fitch Ratings cut the outlook on South Korean financial companies’ debt ratings.

“Investors are waiting for a sign of recovery in the global economy,” said Hisakazu Amano, head of fund management at T&D Asset Management Co., which oversees about $39 billion in Tokyo. “If falling commodity prices fail to stimulate demand, resource- dependent companies can’t avoid a drop in earnings.”

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index retreated 1.7 percent to 85.55 as of 1:16 p.m. in Tokyo, set for its lowest close since Oct. 29 and extending yesterday’s 3.6 percent slump. About three shares dropped for each that advanced, while all 10 industry groups declined, led by financial stocks.

The gauge has lost half its value since its Nov. 1, 2007, record as credit-market turmoil slowed global growth, denting demand for Asian exports. The index trades at 12 times estimated earnings, compared with a low of 8.9 times on Oct. 27 as cuts to profit forecasts have made shares appear more expensive.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average slipped 1.8 percent to 8,657.92. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index sank 1.9 percent, led by Cnooc.

Futures Gain

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.5 percent. The gauge lost 2.2 percent yesterday as General Motors Corp. sank to the lowest price since 1943 amid mounting speculation the world’s largest automaker won’t be able to avert bankruptcy.

“There’s over a million people employed in the U.S. auto industry, so if GM goes under, that’s going to have a major effect on consumer spending,” said Katsuhiko Kodama, a senior strategist at Toyo Securities Co.

Inpex lost 4.6 percent to 514,000 yen after lowering its full-year profit outlook by 15 percent. Cnooc, China’s biggest offshore oil and gas producer, slid 3.9 percent to HK$5.91. Boart Longyear Ltd., a provider of drilling services to mining companies, slumped 12 percent to 34 cents in Sydney, capping an 86 percent annual decline.

Crude oil for December delivery was down as much as 1.3 percent to $58.55 a barrel in after-hours trading in New York on speculation the International Energy Agency will cut its 2009 oil-demand forecast because of slowing economic growth.

Energy companies have tumbled 58 percent and materials producers slid 54 percent this year, the biggest declines among the 10 industry groups on MSCI’s Asian index.

China Demand

Fortescue Metals plunged 10 percent to A$2.05, taking its loss this year to 73 percent and putting it on course for its lowest close since March 2007. The company said shipments may drop this year because of weak demand and a temporary shutdown of its mine processing plant and port. BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, lost 1.4 percent to A$28.41 after saying iron ore exports from Western Australia fell 7.6 percent in October.

China, the world’s largest-iron ore consumer, probably won’t increase imports in 2009 for the first time in 11 years because of slowing steel demand, Zou Jian, chairman of the China Metallurgical Mining Enterprise Association, said yesterday.

Rio Tinto Group, the world’s third-largest mining company, lost 1.8 percent to A$75.15 after saying it is continuing with a $315 million order for three ships in spite of a slowdown in demand for commodities.

A measure of six metals traded on the London Metal Exchange declined 4.2 percent yesterday to the lowest level since September 2004.

Korean Ratings

In South Korea, Hana Financial sank 13 percent to 19,400 won. Woori Finance Holdings Co., which controls South Korea’s second- biggest bank, retreated 5.3 percent to 6,390 won.

Fitch Ratings revised down its long-term foreign-currency issuer default ratings outlooks for South Korean financial institutions to “negative” from “stable,” citing the risk of higher credit costs.

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., Japan’s third-largest listed bank, declined 2.6 percent to 40,500 yen. The Markit iTraxx Japan index of credit-default swaps rose 10 basis points, indicating corporate debt is perceived as being more risky. Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd. said yesterday bankruptcies in Japan rose to a five-year high.

Alibaba, Softbank

Alibaba.com Ltd., China’s biggest trading Web site for companies, surged 13 percent to HK$5.42 after saying third- quarter profit rose 49 percent. More Chinese companies began using Alibaba’s Web site to find domestic buyers as overseas demand evaporated.

Softbank Corp., which holds a 29 percent stake in the parent company of Alibaba.com, soared 14 percent to 1,418 yen.

GPT Group jumped 14 percent to A$1.20 after Stockland, Australia’s largest housing developer, acquired a 12.7 percent stake in the real estate trust, becoming the company’s largest shareholder.

Also in Sydney, Asciano Group rallied 43 percent to 99 cents, rebounding from a 60 percent drop yesterday, after the coal transporter said it didn’t need to secure major financing for 18 months and had no plans to sell stock.

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