Asian stock markets down on weak economic data, Wall Street dive

Energy Associated Press

Asian stock markets mostly fell Thursday, battered by weak U.S. economic data, tensions in the Middle East and Wall Street's retreat from near record highs.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.4 percent to 19,471.12 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was little changed at 24,534.10. South Korea's Kospi lost 1 percent to 2,022.56. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 1.6 percent to 5,879.10 while China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.7 percent to 3,687.82. Markets in Southeast Asia were mixed. India and Taiwan fell.

WEAK DATA: The U.S. Commerce Department reported that orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell in February for the third time in four months. Demand for commercial aircraft, cars and machinery waned. That data came after a survey showed Chinese manufacturing at its weakest in nearly a year.

THE QUOTE: "Worryingly, the dramatic falls in US shares are pointing to a sea change in sentiment," said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. "Previous poor data spurred buying, as investors speculated weaker economic indicators pushed back the Fed's tightening timetable," he said. "The fall in February durable goods orders reported overnight instead saw investors bail out, possibly reflecting the near record highs of US shares. Whatever the cause, it is evident that bad news is now bad news again."

ENERGY: The price of U.S. crude rose amid concerns of spreading turmoil in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia reportedly began amassing troops near its border with strife-torn Yemen. The benchmark U.S. crude futures contract was up $1.95 at $51.17 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $1.70 to close at $49.21 a barrel on Wednesday. The Brent crude futures contract, a benchmark for international oils, was up $1.69 at $57.84 in London.

WALL STREET: The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 30.45 points, or 1.5 percent, to 2,061.05. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 292.60 points, or 1.6 percent, to 17,718.54, while the Nasdaq composite fell 118.21 points, or 2.4 percent, to 4,876.52. It was the worst day for U.S. stocks since March 10, when speculation over the Federal Reserve's plans to raise interest rates helped knock the S&P 500 down 1.7 percent.

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CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.0984 from $1.0966 late Wednesday. The dollar fell to 118.84 yen from 119.52 yen.