[SEOUL] South Korean shares inched lower early on Wednesday, the final trading day of the year for local markets, with large companies and fund selling weighing on the index.
Selling of local stocks by foreign investors and institutions amid thin trading activity cooled market sentiment, but this was countered by strength in some mid- and small-sized companies that rebounded after going ex-dividend.
The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) was down 0.2 per cent at 1,962.20 points as of 0250 GMT.
The KOSPI was set to have gained more than 2 per cent for the year.
"Investors seem to look past year-end settlements and are waiting for the release of earnings reports for the fourth quarter," said Kim Yong-goo, a stock analyst at Samsung Securities.
Despite modest falls across the main bourse, construction and healthcare counters underpinned the wider market as leading gainers. Samsung Engineering Co Ltd jumped 15.3 per cent and Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical Corp rose 11.2 per cent.
Samsung Engineering soared after surging to its upper limit on Tuesday, supported by expectations that its capital increase plan would be successful and following the announcement that it won two contracts.
Meanwhile, Kumho Industrial Co Ltd plunged 10.1 per cent after the head of its former parent group regained control of the construction company.
Shares in Hyundai Motor were flat, while its affiliate Kia Motors Corp shares fell 1.3 per cent. Hyundai Steel fell 4.5 per cent.
Offshore investors were set to be net sellers for a 20th consecutive session, dumping a net 30.3 billion won (S$36.6 million) worth of KOSPI shares near mid-session.
South Korea's financial markets will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the New Year holiday. Market trading will resume on Monday, Jan. 4 at 0100 GMT, one hour later than usual.
The South Korean won held steady in thin trading as investors have closed their positions ahead of the year-end.
The currency was quoted down 0.3 per cent at 1,173.2 per dollar, compared with 1,169.6 previously.
It looked set for a decline of around 7 per cent for the year, amid pressure from a weakening yuan.
March futures on three-year treasury bonds edged down 0.01 point at 109.63.