Asia stocks edge lower on profit taking; Nikkei ends down 0.8%

Shutterstock photo - Asian stock markets edged lower on Monday, as investors as investors cashed out of the market to lock in gains from a strong New Year's rally that took markets to multi-month highs in the previous session.

Investors were also hesitant to push prices higher ahead of the start of the U.S. earnings season on Tuesday and as focus remained on how U.S. lawmakers will deal with the upcoming debt ceiling debate.

During late Asian trade, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index eased down 0.1%, Australia's ASX/200 Index settled 0.15% lower, while Japan's Nikkei 225 Index ended down 0.8%.

Most Asia markets kicked off 2013 with sharp gains, after U.S. lawmakers passed a last-minute bill to avoid the fiscal cliff last week, a series of looming tax increases and spending cuts that could have pushed the U.S. economy back into a recession.

Focus was expected to remain on the U.S. economy, as investors remained jittery over the longer term fiscal outlook, with negotiations on raising the U.S. debt ceiling still to come in February.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor said the economy added 155,000 jobs in December, easing from an increase of 161,000 in November, suggesting that the recovery in the labor market may be slowing. The unemployment rate held steady at 7.8%.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 Index fell from the highest level since March 2011, as investors closed bets prices will move higher on speculation the market is overbought.

The benchmark index has rallied nearly 22% in the past six weeks, closing at a 22-month high on Friday, as expectations for more aggressive monetary stimulus from the Bank of Japan under new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underpinned sentiment.

Shares in Japan's largest brokerage firm Nomura Holdings fell 5%, halting a record 13-day win streak.

Some exporters came under pressure from profit-taking, with automakers Honda and Toyota down 1.2% and 1.7%, while digital camera maker Canon lost 2.6% and industrial robot maker Fanuc dropped 3.8%.

Exporters have been amongst the most notable gainers, as ongoing weakness in the yen boosted the outlook for export earnings. The yen reached 88.41 against the U.S. dollar on Friday, the lowest since July 2010.

Meanwhile, shares in Hong Kong were little changed a day after hitting a 19-month high, as focus remained squarely on the U.S. economy.

Shares in insurance firms were higher, with China Pacific Insurance and Ping An Insurance Group up 1.6% and 2.3% respectively.

Index heavyweight HSBC Holdings advanced 1.2%. Shares of HSBC command a 15% weighting on the Hong Kong benchmark, making it the single largest constituent on the index.

Elsewhere, in Australia, the benchmark ASX/200 Index edged lower, after hitting the highest level since May 2011 earlier in the session.

Mining giant Rio Tinto declined 1.6%, while Newcrest Mining fell 1.2%.

In Europe, stocks were set to open flat. The EURO STOXX 50 futures pointed to a loss of 0.1% at the open, France's CAC 40 futures eased up 0.1%, Germany's DAX futures were flat, while London's FTSE 100 futures were little changed.

Later Monday, the euro zone was to produce official data on producer price inflation, as well as a report on investor confidence. - offers an extensive set of professional tools for the Forex, Commodities, Futures and the Stock Market including real-time data streaming, a comprehensive economic calendar, as well as financial news and technical & fundamental analysis by in-house experts.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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