Asian markets fall on weak China data, Korea fears
HONG KONG—Asian markets slipped on Monday after a disappointing batch of Chinese growth figures, with traders keeping a wary eye on the Korean peninsula, where military tensions are high.
A pick-up in the yen dragged on Japan’s Nikkei after the US warned Tokyo to avoid competitive devaluation as the unit faces heavy selling pressure on the back of huge central bank stimulus measures.
Tokyo fell 1.55 percent, or 209.48 points, to 13,275.66, while Hong Kong shed 1.43 percent, or 316.38 points, to end at 21,772.67. Shanghai was down 1.13 percent, or 24.84 points, at 2,181.94.
Sydney finished 0.91 percent, or 45.6 points, lower at 4,967.9 and Seoul eased 0.20 percent, dipping 3.78 points to 1,920.45.
China said its economy grew 7.7 percent in the first quarter of the year, well below the 8.0 percent forecast in a poll of 12 economists by AFP.
The figure is also slower than the 7.9 percent in the previous three months and raises questions about the strength of the world’s No. 2 economy, which is a key driver of global growth.
In a statement the National Bureau of Statistics cited “the complicated and volatile economic environment at home and abroad.”
Monday’s data is the latest in a string of weak results, including on manufacturing, inflation and investment.
The economy grew 7.8 percent in 2012, its slowest rate in 13 years, and authorities have kept their growth target for 2013 at a conservative 7.5 percent.
Wendy Chen, a Shanghai-based economist at Nomura Securities, told AFP: “The (growth) figure was lower than market expectations, indicating the recovery in the real economy was not on a solid foundation and remained weak.”
She added that given concerns about inflation rising in the next few months, it was unlikely the central bank will move to stimulate the economy by cutting interest rates “as loosening monetary policy may bring greater inflationary risks.”.
Selling was also being fueled by uncertainty over North Korea, with fears that Pyongyang could mark the anniversary of the birth of its late founder Kim Il-Sung on Monday by launching a missile.
The tensions continue to rise despite moves by Seoul and Washington for talks to temper recent bellicose rhetoric from the North Koreans.
Intelligence reports say the North has had two medium-range missiles ready to fire for nearly a week.
On currency markets the yen extended gains seen in New York on Friday after the United States said it was monitoring Japan’s policies and urged Tokyo to avoid “competitive devaluation” of its currency.
The comments from the US Treasury, in a twice-yearly report on foreign-exchange policies, come after the Bank of Japan earlier this month unveiled bold stimulus measures to kick-start the economy and defeat deflation.
The moves sent the dollar soaring to almost 100 yen, a level not seen since April 2009.
In European trade the greenback fell to 98.03 yen, from 98.37 yen in New York Friday and sharply down from 99.95 yen in Tokyo earlier Friday.
The euro sat at 128.05 yen from 128.89 yen and $1.3065, compared with $1.3099.
On Wall Street the Dow, which is sitting at record highs, finished flat, while the S&P 500 fell 0.28 percent after also hitting all-time highs, while the Nasdaq lost 0.16 percent.
Oil prices fell, with New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, dropping $2.69 to $88.60 a barrel, while Brent North Sea crude for May shed $2.27 to $100.84.
Gold was at $1,403.10 an ounce at 1025 GMT compared with $1,548.60 late on Friday.
In other markets:
— Singapore fell 0.30 percent, or 9.82 points, to 3,284.37.
Oil rig maker Keppel Corp. was down 0.26 percent at Sg$11.39 and United Overseas Bank shed 0.69 percent to Sg$20.23.
— Taipei fell 0.74 percent, or 58.10 points, to 7,763.53.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. was 1.09 percent lower at Tw$99.4 while leading chip design house MediaTek shed 2.32 percent to Tw$337.5.
— Manila fell 0.78 percent, or 53.66 points, to 6,837.77.
SM Investment fell 1.41 percent to 1,119 pesos while Metro Pacific Investment dropped 0.05 percent to 5.70 pesos. Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. slipped 1.23 percent to 2,884 pesos.
— Wellington rose 0.43 percent, or 18.94 points, to 4,454.71.
Telecom added 0.41 percent to NZ$2.44, Contact Energy rose 0.17 percent to NZ$5.82 and Fletcher Building was down 1.04 percent at NZ$8.57.
— Jakarta slipped 0.86 percent, or 42.62 points, to 4,894.59.
Miner Aneka Tambang fell 2.82 percent to 1,380 rupiah, while Bank Permata rose 0.59 percent to 1,710 rupiah.
— Kuala Lumpur ended flat, dipping 0.76 points to 1,697.77.
Genting Malaysia lost 2.4 percent to 3.61 ringgit, while Petronas Dagangan shed 2.1 percent to 22.98. Sime Darby rose 1.7 percent to 9.45 ringgit.
— Mumbai rose 0.63 percent, or 115.24 points, to 18,357.80.
India’s oil explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) rose 3.45 percent to 319.15 rupees. Private carrier Jet Airways rose 5.59 percent to 500.55 rupees.
— Bangkok was closed for a public holiday.—Danny McCord