Asian Markets Lower on Global Growth Fears


Asian markets mostly fell on Friday on growing concerns over the global economy after an unimpressive set of U.S. data, while weak Japanese figures and a stronger yen weighed on Tokyo.

Trade was also subdued as investors balanced their books on the last day of the quarter, which saw a rally at the start of the year subside in the final few weeks.

Tokyo lost 0.31 percent, or 31.23 points, to close at 10,083.56, Sydney finished flat, edging down 2.7 points to 4,335.2 and Seoul was also almost unchanged, nudging 0.37 points lower to 2,014.04.

Hong Kong finished 0.26 percent down, shedding 53.81 points to 20,555.58 but Shanghai closed 0.47 percent, or 10.63 points, higher at 2,262.79.

Wall Street again provided an unenthusiastic lead. New claims for unemployment benefit hit a four-year low but the rate of decline was slower than anticipated, according to analysts.

Traders also took little notice of confirmation that the world's biggest economy grew 3.0 percent in the October-December quarter.

The Dow closed 0.15 percent higher, the S&P 500 lost 0.16 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq gave up 0.31 percent.

Japan was unable to provide any perk after announcing an unexpected 1.2 percent fall in February industrial production, against forecasts for a 1.3 percent rise.

The fall comes after Tokyo said the weak economy was showing signs of picking up after industrial production in January rose by a revised 1.9 percent.

The results out of Washington and Tokyo are the latest to pour cold water on a recent spurt of optimism over the global economy that had been fuelled by rising US jobs growth and an easing of Europe's debt crisis.

"Worries about global growth have been steadily increasing with the lengthening patch of softer data," Barclays Capital said in a note.

"Financial markets are starting to price in concerns about a slowdown in China," it added, referring to a spate of figures from Beijing that show slumping exports and contracting manufacturing activity in the Asian giant.

Increased concerns have led investors back to the safe haven of the yen in the past two weeks, helping it claw back some of its recent losses.

The dollar was at 82.10 yen in Tokyo from 82.42 late Thursday in New York after earlier in the day slipping to 81.83 yen. The U.S. unit had flirted with the 84-yen level earlier in the month after Japan announced fresh monetary easing.

The euro bought 109.50 yen, compared with 109.64 yen in New York, well down from the 111.00 yen seen last week. The euro was also at $1.3333 compared with $1.3301.

Eyes are on a meeting later Friday of Eurozone finance ministers, who are preparing to hold talks on expanding the region's debt firewall.

They are expected to discuss combining the European Financial Stability Facility, used to rescue Portugal, Ireland and Greece, with the permanent European Stability Mechanism.

The move would temporarily raise the size of the rescue mechanism to 940 billion euros, seen as necessary to stem market volatility tied to the Eurozone’s fiscal woes.

The Hong Kong index was hit by a big sell-off in Sun Hung Kai Properties, which slumped after its tycoon co-chairmen Thomas and Raymond Kwok were arrested as part of a fraud probe.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in May, gained 34 cents to $103.12 per barrel in the afternoon while Brent North Sea crude for May settlement was up 48 cents at $122.87.

Gold was at $1,663.90 an ounce at 1045 GMT, compared with $1,656.60 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Singapore closed up 0.55 percent, or 16.37 points, at 3,010.46.

Commodities firm Olam International gained 0.86 percent to Sg$2.36 while Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp was up 0.79 percent at Sg$8.92.

-- Taipei rose 0.77 percent, or 60.34 points, to 7,933.00.

Hon Hai Precision Industry, the parent of Apple supplier Foxconn, fell 1.29 percent to Tw$114.5 after being singled out in a report on labor conditions in China. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co rose 0.95 percent to Tw$84.9.

-- Manila rose 0.44 percent, or 22.49 points, to 5,107.73.

Alliance Global Group slipped 0.63 percent to 12.60 pesos while Philippine Long Distance Telephone gained 0.97 percent to 2,700 pesos. SM Prime Holdings rose 1.81 percent to 16.90 pesos.

-- Jakarta gained 0.40 percent, or 16.38 points, to 4,121.55.

-- Wellington gained 0.40 percent, or 14.11 points, to 3,509.55.

Telecom was down 1.02 percent at NZ$2.42, Contact added 0.86 percent to NZ$4.71 and Fletcher Building added 0.15 percent to NZ$6.75.

-- Kuala Lumpur added 0.69 percent, or 10.89 points, to 1,596.33.

Budget carrier AirAsia inched up 0.58 percent to 3.45 ringgit, while financial firm CIMB Group Holdings climbed 1.18 percent to 7.69 ringgit. Gaming giant Genting lost 2.69 percent to 10.84 ringgit.

-- Bangkok fell 0.59 percent or 7.14 points to 1,196.77.

PTT lost 1.12 percent to 354.00 baht, while Siam Cement dropped 1.93 percent to 355.00 baht.

-- Indian shares jumped 345.59 points, or 2.03 percent, to 17,404.2, snapping two straight days of losses after the government clarified a tax law for overseas investors.

The world's seventh largest steel maker Tata Steel rose 4.04 percent to 470.4 rupees while India's largest passenger car maker Maruti Suzuki rose 3.76 percent to 1,349.1.

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