Asian markets ease, Tokyo weighs quake impact

A vegetable vendor prepares to return charge to an elderly man at his stall at a market in Beijing

Hong Kong (AFP) – Asian traders took a step back Friday after a rally across global markets this week, as China released data showing the world’s number-two economy grew at its slowest rate in seven years during the first quarter.

Japanese investors were also cautious as they assess the impact of a powerful 6.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the country overnight, killing least nine people and forcing the closure of the factories of several major manufacturers.

Shares around the world have piled higher this week as a string of upbeat data from China and a surge in oil prices fuelled hopes for the global economy.

But investors decided to take their cash off the table Friday, sending most markets lower.

Hong Kong lost 0.2 percent and Shanghai 0.3 percent while Seoul was 0.2 percent lower, although Sydney added 0.4 percent.

Tokyo gave up 0.3 percent by the break, with big-name firms including Sony and Honda among the key losers.

“It’s possible that there may be effects on individual companies through the supply chains,” Juichi Wako, a senior strategist at Nomura Holdings, told Bloomberg News.

However, the losses around the region were limited, with another batch of positive readings out of China.

Beijing said the Chinese economy,  a crucial driver of global growth, expanded 6.7 percent in January-March, the weakest quarterly result since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, but in line with expectations.

The government also released forecast-beating investment, sales and industrial output figures for last month that reinforced hopes a growth slowdown in the economy may be bottoming out.

Analysts said the data indicated that some sense of stabilisation had finally set in following series of stimulus measures. 

World markets were sent into spasms at the end of last year and the start of 2016 by worries over the state of the Chinese economy and Beijing’s handling of the crisis.

But Morgan Stanley economist Sun Junwei wrote in a report ahead of the data release: “We continue to expect a cyclical improvement as past stimulus measures are still filtering through to the economy.”

Oil prices edged up slightly ahead of Sunday’s eagerly awaited meeting of key crude producers in Doha that is expected to see an agreement to limit output to address a supply glut that has ravaged markets.

Traders will closely watch Sunday’s talks after prices slumped by about three quarters to below $30 between mid-2014 and February this year on the back of the supply glut and overproduction.

– Key figures around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 percent at 16,854.37 (break)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,077.41

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1 percent at 21,322.11

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1257 from $1.1269 on Thursday 

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.67 yen from 109.34 yen

New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 17,926.43 (close)

London – FTSE 100: FLAT at 6,365.10 (close)


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