Asian markets hit by weak China trade data

Asian markets mostly fell Friday as weak Chinese trade data reinforced concerns of a slowdown in the world's number two economy, while profit-taking after a week-long rally added to selling pressure.

Wall Street provided a weak lead despite upbeat US jobs and trade data that indicated a positive outlook for the world's number one economy.

Hong Kong fell 0.66 percent, or 133.35 points, to 20,136.12, while Shanghai shed 0.24 percent, or 5.29 points, to 2,168.81, with losses muted as dealers expect policymakers to loosen monetary policy soon to kickstart the economy.

Tokyo fell 0.97 percent, or 87.16 points, to 8,891.44 and Sydney shed 0.72 percent, or 30.9 points, to 4,277.3 but Seoul advanced 0.30 percent, or 5.81 points, to 1,946.40.

China's General Administration of Customs said exports grew just one percent in July year-on-year to $176.9 billion, while imports rose 4.7 percent to $151.8 billion, cutting the trade surplus to $25.1 billion from $31.7 billion in June.

The data follow results on Thursday showing Chinese retail sales, industrial output and inflation eased in July, indicating the export-driven economy was feeling the effects of Europe's debt crisis lowering demand in the key market.

The figures will also add to calls for China's leaders to further loosen monetary policy to kick start growth, which in the April-June quarter grew at its slowest pace since the height of the global crisis in 2008-2009.

China has already this year taken the rare step of slashing interest rates twice in quick succession, while also lowering requirements for how much money banks must keep in reserve as it looks to spur lending.

Profit-taking added to Friday's losses after global markets rallied this week following European Central Bank comments that gave investors confidence it will restart its sovereign bond-buying programme soon to help countries such as Spain and Italy.

There are also expectations the Federal Reserve will return to its asset-purchasing programme to spur the US economy.

Optimism that the banks will step in had seen Tokyo gain almost five percent over the previous four sessions, while Hong Kong added more than three percent.

Wall Street also posted gains but its rally ran out of steam on Thursday, with the Dow and S&P 500 ending flat while the Nasdaq put on 0.25 percent, despite bright jobs and trade data.

US weekly new jobless claims fell to 361,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, in another sign that the jobs market has some moderate strength despite the second-quarter lull in hiring.

Meanwhile, the US trade deficit narrowed in June for the third straight month, with exports continuing to climb while imports eased.

On currency markets the greenback was quoted at 78.46 yen in early Europe trade Friday, slightly down from 78.55 yen in New York late Thursday.

The euro stood at $1.2270 and 96.28 yen, compared with $1.2301 and 96.62 yen.

Oil prices were lower after the figures from China, the world's biggest energy consumer.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in September, retreated 67 cents to $92.69 a barrel while Brent North Sea crude for September fell 64 cents to $112.58.

Gold was at $1,609.15 at 1100 GMT, from $1,613.25 on Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Singapore ended flat, nudging up 1.95 points to 3,054.20.

Keppel Corp. gained 1.51 percent to Sg$11.40 and Fraser and Neave added 0.94 percent to Sg$8.57.

-- Taipei climbed 0.10 percent, or 7.42 points, to 7,441.12.

Chunghwa Telecom was 0.11 percent higher at Tw$89.9 while TSMC fell 0.36 percent to Tw$82.0.

-- Manila closed 0.13 percent higher, adding 6.74 points to 5,263.35.

Bloomberry Resorts added 1.52 percent to 10 pesos while Metropolitan Bank and Trust slipped 2.72 percent to 94.85 pesos.

Ayala Corp. was up 1.18 percent at 430 pesos.

-- Wellington eased 0.16 percent, or 5.82 points, to 3,577.80.

Fletcher Building fell 1.2 percent to NZ$6.40, Telecom Corp was up 1.1 percent at NZ$2.695 and Air New Zealand held steady at NZ$0.91.

-- Kuala Lumpur added 0.17 percent, or 2.84 points, to 1,645.36.

IOI Corp gained 2.3 percent to 5.27 ringgit while Hong Leong closed 1.9 percent higher at 12.58 ringgit. Financial giant CIMB Group Holdings shed 0.1 percent to end at 7.90 ringgit.

-- Jakarta climbed 0.25 percent, or 10.39 points, to 4,141.56.

Bank Rakyat rose 2.1 percent to 7,200 rupiah, cement producer Semen Gresik gained 1.2 percent to 12,550 rupiah, while Astra Agro Lestari lost 2.21 percent to 22,100 rupiah.

-- Bangkok rose 0.14 percent, or 1.67 points, to 1,219.37.

BANPU rose 0.88 percent to 458.00 Baht, while PTT gained 1.79 percent to 342.00 Baht.

-- Mumbai closed down 0.02 percent or 3.13 points at 17,557.74

State Bank of India fell 4.26 percent to 1,887.95 rupees.

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