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Nikkei big loser in Asia, euro extends gains

/ 12:15 AM May 15, 2015
A man walks past an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo on Thursday, May 14, 2015. Asian stock markets drifted Thursday after weak retail sales figures suggested the US economy is struggling to maintain growth momentum.  AP PHOTO/EUGENE HOSHIKO

A man walks past an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo on Thursday, May 14, 2015. Asian stock markets drifted Thursday after weak retail sales figures suggested the US economy is struggling to maintain growth momentum. AP PHOTO/EUGENE HOSHIKO

HONG KONG–Tokyo’s Nikkei index was the biggest loser of Asia’s major markets Thursday as the yen climbed against the dollar, while Wall Street provided a weak lead following more below-forecast US data.

The euro added to recent gains after data showing the eurozone economy picking up trumped worries about Greece’s ongoing debt reform talks.

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Tokyo sank 0.98 percent, or 194.48 points, to 19,570.24 while Sydney eased 0.33 percent, or 18.6 points, to 5,696.5 and Seoul added 0.29 percent, or 6.17 points, to 2,120.33.

Hong Kong climbed 0.14 percent, or 37.27 points, to 27,286.55 and Shanghai was slightly higher, adding 2.55 points to 4,378.31

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US traders were left disappointed Wednesday after the Commerce Department said retail sales, a key part of consumer spending that drives most of the US economy, stagnated in April after rising 1.1 percent in March.

The average consensus estimate had been for a 0.2 percent increase.

Year-on-year, retail sales rose 0.9 percent, the weakest growth since 2009.

The news adds to unease about the world’s biggest economy, which grew slower than expected in the first quarter, and makes a Federal Reserve interest rate rise unlikely in the early summer, reversing expectations from the start of the year.

“While US growth is rebounding, it may not rebound as far and as fast as many investors had expected,” Russ Koesterich, global chief investment strategist at New York-based BlackRock Inc., told Bloomberg TV.

The Dow edged down 0.04 percent and the S&P 500 dipped 0.03 percent but the Nasdaq added 0.11 percent.

On currency markets the dollar softened as the chances of a rate hike abated. In Japanese trade it bought 119.10 yen against 119.16 yen in New York and was well down from 119.83 yen earlier Wednesday in Asia.

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Eurozone picks up

The euro pushed higher after official data showed the eurozone economy met expectations and grew 0.4 percent quarter-on-quarter in January-March, up from 0.3 percent in the previous three months.

The expansion came after getting some help from the European Central Bank’s massive bond-buying program, launched in March to kick-start the single-currency bloc.

The single currency was at $1.1389 and 135.74 yen against $1.1354 and 135.29 yen in New York and also well up from the $1.1246 and 134.80 yen in Tokyo earlier Wednesday.

However, debt-saddled Greece confirmed that its economy had slipped back into recession, with no end in sight to tense bailout reform talks with its international creditors.

Traders were keeping a close watch on the discussions as they try to hammer out an overhaul of Greece’s bailout terms that will unlock billions of euros in much-needed cash to pay its bills.

There are fears that if Greece defaults on its debt repayments it could fall out of the eurozone, which would have painful knock-on effects globally.

Oil prices were lower. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for June delivery fell 40 cents to $60.10 while Brent crude for June eased 25 cents to $66.56 in afternoon trade.

Gold fetched $1,218.82 from $1,193.77 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

— Taipei fell 1.16 percent, or 113.28 points, to 9,610.83.

Smartphone maker HTC slipped 1.75 percent to Tw$112.0 while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. was 1.35 percent lower at Tw$146.0.

— Wellington shed 0.23 percent, or 13.46 percent, to 5,738.40.

Contact Energy slipped 1.07 percent to NZ$5.55 and Warehouse Group was down 1.08 percent at NZ$2.76.

— Manila added 0.30 percent, or 23.09 points, to 7,831.44.

— Jakarta was closed for a public holiday.

— Singapore rose 0.08 percent, or 2.61 points, to 3,455.78.

United Overseas Bank fell 0.41 percent to Sg$24.05 while agribusiness company Wilmar International gained 0.31 percent to Sg$3.26.

— Malaysia’s share index rose 4.53 points, or 0.25 percent, to close at 1,807.55.

Tenaga Nasional gained 0.58 percent to close at 13.88 ringgit, while Sime Darby fell 0.22 percent to 9.02 ringgit. Malayan Banking went up 0.22 percent to 9.28 ringgit.

— Mumbai fell 0.17 percent, or 45.04 points, to end at 27,206.06.

Miner Vedanta Limited fell 1.65 percent to 214.30 rupees, while its peer Hindalco Industries rose 2.92 percent to 137.40 rupees.

Thai stocks closed flat, up just 0.10 percent, or 1.45 points, to 1,497.40

— Bangkok Bank rose 1.63 percent to 186.50 baht, while the Siam Cement conglomerate dipped 2.25 percent to 522 baht.

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