Toyota Rises Despite Prius Recall, More Tainted Milk in China

In Asia Tuesday, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 1.2% to close at 19,970. China's Shanghai Composite Index added 0.5%, ending the day at 2,949 and in Japan, the Nikkei 225 Index fell 0.2% to 9,933.Toyota (TM) shares closed higher in Tokyo today, rising 3% despite an announcement that it is now recalling at least 170,000 units of its Prius, which was the top-selling car in Japan in 2009. The recall could cost the car maker more than $2 billion, according to Business Week -- bad news for a company that has worked hard to gain market share around the world and has now lost about $33 billion in value in less than a month. The car maker's CEO, grandson of the original founder, said Tuesday that it will take a good look at quality control by appointing an independent panel to assess its operations.

Meanwhile, other car makers are snapping up would-be Toyota customers and their values are rising. Today, Honda's stock rose 0.8% in Japan, and Nissan, which is predicted by some to benefit significantly from the Toyota debacle, racked up a 2.4% gain. Isuzu also rose 1.5%.

Safety issues have also taken a front seat at Koito Industries, whose parent company Koito Manufacturing is affiliated with Toyota Motors. Shares in the maker of seats for bullet trains and airplanes plunged 33.5% today after admitting it had falsified safety data on seats used in Airbus SAS and Boeing airplanes, according to Bloomberg, which reports that Koito will repair about 150,000 seats in about 1,000 planes.

Japanese department store operators sank lower today. As reports by Japan's Labor Ministry show, monthly wages fell steeply in December, plunging 6.1% lower than a year earlier. Slashed winter bonuses probably don't make most people feel like heading to the mall. Today Tokyo department store operator Mariu Group tumbled 5.1%, Upscale Takashimaya with stores in Tokyo, New York and London slid 2.6% and UNY, which operates no-nonsense department stores in Japan and Hong Kong dropped 2.2%.

In Hong Kong, property development companies rose today. Sino Land, which builds resort-like residences with names like The Palazzo and The Dynasty in Hong Kong's rural New Territories, climbed 5%, and Hang Lung rose 4.2%. New World Development, which has expanded its extensive list of luxury properties on Hong Kong Island onto Mainland China, rose 3.7% in today's trading.

Hong Kong-listed energy companies also fared well today with Cnooc rising 3.5%, Hong Kong & China Gas adding 3% and PetroChina up 2.4%.

In China, another tainted milk powder scandal is gripping the nation. This time the same chemical, Melamine, which killed six children and made thousands more sick in 2008 when it was found in baby formula, has been detected in powder at ice cream factories. According to China Daily, more than 170 tons of milk powder have been recalled, but it seems the powder had already been re-packaged and sold on to factories from Mongolia in the north to Guangdong in the south, and traces of the substance have been found in candy called "white mice."

Shares in milk companies, which have not even been specifically named in the scandal, closed lower today: Chinese-listed Guangxi Royal Dairy fell 1.5%, and shares in Hong Kong-listed China Mengniu Dairy dropped 2.2%. Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed Natural Dairy NZ, which makes dairy products in New Zealand shot up 10.2%. Expats and locals all over Asia will be hunting down imported dairy products. A big blow for the entire Chinese dairy sector.


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