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Asia: Markets follow Wall St lower after US data

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets wound back on Thursday, in line with a hefty sell-off on Wall Street, after surprisingly weak US data hinted at ongoing weakness in the world's number one economy.

The euro maintained its recent strength against the dollar and yen, boosted by receding expectations of an early US rate hike and upbeat indicators out of the eurozone.

Oil prices also enjoyed support from concerns about unrest in the crude-rich Middle East following news that Saudi Arabian jets had struck rebel positions in neighbouring Yemen.

In early trade Tokyo sank 1.56 per cent from a 15-year high, while Sydney lost 1.30 per cent, Seoul shed 0.74 per cent, Hong Kong shed 0.30 per cent and Shanghai slipped 0.55 per cent.

US investors ran for the sidelines on Wednesday after the Commerce Department said durable goods orders fell in February after January's gain.

While the news will likely put back the Federal Reserve's timeline on when to raise interest rates, it was taken Wednesday by investors as a sign of weakness, fuelling fears about the global outlook.

The Nasdaq fell 2.37 per cent, the Dow tumbled 1.62 per cent and the S&P 500 gave up 1.46 per cent.

"Wall Street is struggling to add to its recent record high and it looks like the upward momentum is starting to show signs of fatigue," Matthew Sherwood, head of investment markets research in Sydney at Perpetual, told Bloomberg News.

"Asia has an advantage over the US as Asia has cheaper valuations. What's weighing on Asia is the performance of the Chinese economy, which is facing some growth roadblocks."

Banking giant HSBC this week revealed its preliminary gauge of Chinese manufacturing activity had hit an 11-year low and indicated it was in contraction. That comes after a string of releases showing the Asian economic giant struggling.

The dollar - suffering recent losses after the Fed dampened talk of an early summer rate rise - came under further pressure after the latest figures.

In Tokyo it bought 119.39 yen (S$1.369), compared with 119.43 yen in New York and well off the 119.62 yen in Tokyo earlier Wednesday.

The euro bought US$1.0971 and 131.00 yen against US$1.0973 and 131.05 yen.

The single currency has bounced since slumping below US$1.05 last week, before the Fed announcement.

Providing upward pressure for the European unit was a closely watched Ifo economic institute index on business confidence in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, which rose to 107.9 in March, the highest level since July 2014.

Another report showed eurozone business activity near a four-year high in March.

Oil extended gains in Asia as investors eye events in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia carried out strikes against Huthi rebels as part of a regional coalition in a bid to save the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and prevent civil war.

West Texas Intermediate was up 43 US cents at US$49.64 and Brent advanced 53 US cents to US$57.01.

Gold fetched US$1,197.58 against US$1,195.51 late Wednesday.

AFP