Australia Stocks Fall as Moody’s Cut Ratings of Europe Nations

Australian equities fell after Moody’s Investors Service cut the debt ratings of six European countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal, reviving concern about the region’s debt crisis. Japanese stock futures were little changed.

BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP), the world’s No. 1 mining company, slid 0.9 percent in Sydney. Macquarie Group Ltd. (MQG), Australia’s largest investment bank, fell 1 percent after it cut 10 percent of its workforce in Asia last week, according to two people with knowledge of the departures. American depositary receipts of Advantest Corp. (6857), a Japanese maker of memory-chip testers, added 0.5 percent from the closing share price in Tokyo after a measure that tracks the performance of semiconductor companies climbed.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 0.2 percent today and New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index fell 0.1 percent in Wellington. Futures on Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average expiring in March closed at 9,015 in Chicago yesterday, compared with 9,000 in Osaka, Japan. They were bid in the pre-market at 9,000 in Osaka, at 8:05 a.m. local time.

“The uncertainty over the euro area’s prospects for institutional reform of its fiscal and economic framework” and the resources that will be made available to deal with the crisis, are among the main drivers of Moody’s action, the ratings company said.

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 0.2 percent today. The index climbed 0.7 percent in New York yesterday as Germany and the European Commission welcomed Greek parliamentary approval of austerity steps demanded for a financial lifeline, signaling euro-area finance chiefs tomorrow will ratify a 130 billion-euro ($171 billion) package for the debt-stricken nation.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index (MXAP) gained 10.5 percent this year through yesterday, compared with a 7.5 percent increase by the S&P 500 and a 7.6 percent advance by the Stoxx Europe 600 Index. Stocks in the Asian benchmark are valued at 14.1 times estimated earnings on average, compared with 12.9 times for the S&P 500 and 10.9 times for the Stoxx 600.

Sina Corp. gained, helping Chinese shares traded in New York to a five-month high, after analysts recommended buying the nation’s Internet companies as users climb and their stock trades cheaper than peers in the U.S. The China-US 55 Index of the most-traded Chinese equities in the U.S. gained 1.6 percent to 106.72 at the close in New York, the highest since Aug. 31.

Macquarie Group, which is mainly cutting vice presidents and some junior positions, will keep an investment banking presence in 14 countries in Asia, one of the two people familiar with the situation said. Macquarie said on Feb. 7 that slumping advisory fees will contribute to a 25 percent drop in profit for in the year ending March 31.

The Philadelphia Semiconductor Index, which tracks the performance of 30 industry stocks, rose 0.4 percent yesterday.