Asian stock markets lackluster as Japan, China economic data show weakness

Energy Associated Press

Asian stock markets mostly sagged Wednesday as China's manufacturing remained weak in February and a Japanese central bank survey showed businesses are wary about the economic outlook.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index slipped 0.9 percent to 19,034.84 and South Korea's Kospi lost 0.6 percent to 2,029.65. Australia's S&P ASX/200 fell 0.5 percent to 5,860.80. But Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.7 percent to 25,074.61 and the Shanghai Composite Index added 1.4 percent to 3,799.64 on speculation authorities will do more to ease credit. Markets in Southeast Asia were lower.

JAPAN TANKAN: The Bank of Japan's quarterly survey of over 11,000 companies, large and small, showed most remain wary and generally plan to reduce capital investment. The results will likely reinforce the conviction that more stimulus is needed to sustain growth as Japan struggles to escape from more than two decades of stagnation. A separate survey of manufacturers showed weak demand inside Japan but more upbeat prospects for exports.

THE QUOTE: "Led by the release of the Japanese Tankan this morning, the market's next direction of trade will have plenty of data points to take cues from," said analyst Nicholas Teo at CMC Markets in Singapore. Manufacturing indexes from China, the EU and the U.S. later Wednesday and also the U.S. payrolls at the week's end "will offer traders more clues as to new directions they should take as this second quarter kicks off."

CHINA DATA: China's manufacturing was lackluster in February and industrial employers shed more jobs, two surveys showed, adding to pressure on Beijing to shore up weakening growth in the world's second-largest economy. HSBC's monthly manufacturing index, which is based on a survey of factory purchasing managers, fell to 49.6 from 50.7 in January on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 show activity contracting. A separate index by an industry group edged up 0.2 points from February to 50.1.

WALL STREET: The stock market ended the first quarter on a down note, as profit taking and portfolio realignment erased most of the gains from a big rally the day before. The Dow fell 200.19 points, or 1.1 percent, to 17,776.12, while the S&P 500 index slid 18.35 points, or 0.9 percent, to 2,067.89.

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ENERGY: Signs of slight progress in talks between the U.S. and Iran helped pull oil prices lower, on expectations they could bring more crude into the global market in coming months. Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 21 cents to $47.39 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.08 to close at $47.60 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 16 cents to $54.95 a barrel in London after losing $1.18 to close at $55.11 on Tuesday.

CURRENCIES: The euro edged higher to $1.0778 from $1.0739 the previous day. The dollar slipped to 119.90 yen from 120.06 yen.