Asian shares mixed, Egypt violence weighs

Renewed concerns over protests in Egypt pushed Tokyo shares down on Thursday while Sydney was boosted by insurance companies after a huge cyclone caused less damage than expected in Australia.

Most markets in Asia were closed for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Tokyo fell 0.11 percent after news that the anti-government protests in Egypt had turned violent, with clashes between demonstrators and pro-government forces leaving three dead.

The clashes erupted after almost a week of rallies against the three-decade rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Fears eased earlier this week after Mubarak said he will stand down at the end of the year but they were stoked again on Wednesday when television pictures showed the bloody clashes.

The violence weighed on US stocks late Wednesday, with the Dow closing just 0.02 percent higher amid concerns over the wider implications for the Middle East.

Oil continued its march upwards on the back of the trouble, with Brent North Sea crude for March up 22 cents at $102.56 in early Asian trade.

New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for March, climbed 47 cents to $91.24.

“The situation in Egypt represents a potential economic risk,” said Ric Spooner, markets strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.

“However, at this stage it is unclear what form any transitional government will take and whether there may be disruption to oil and gas supplies or implications for regional stability,” he told Dow Jones Newswires.

In Sydney shares rose 0.24 percent amid relief that Tropical Cyclone Yasi — described as one of the biggest to hit the country — caused less damage than expected after slamming into the Queensland coast overnight.

The huge storm did however devastate several towns and cut power to 175,000 homes in a state still reeling from months of catastrophic floods.

Insurance companies were the main gainers, with Suncorp up 2.3 percent and IAG 2.2 percent higher.

On forex markets the euro fetched $1.3809 in Tokyo morning trade, unchanged from New York late Wednesday but down from a near-three-month high of $1.3862 touched there in earlier trading.

The euro traded at 112.65 yen, flat from New York while the dollar changed hands at 81.54 yen, also unchanged from New York.

Shares in Wellington edged up 0.17 percent while Manila was 0.14 percent up.