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Asia: Markets mostly down as Greece fears return

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets mostly retreated Monday following losses on Wall Street as fears over Greece returned, while Shanghai and Hong Kong retreated after Chinese authorities unveiled restrictions on dealers borrowing cash to trade shares.

The mainland clampdown, announced Friday, offset news at the weekend that the Chinese central bank had reduced the amount of cash lenders must keep in reserve, in a bid to boost loan activity.

Hong Kong fell 0.25 per cent, Shanghai lost 0.32 per cent, Sydney shed 0.85 per cent and Seoul was 0.21 per cent lower. Tokyo was flat.

The People's Bank of China Sunday announced it would cut one percentage point off the reserve ratio requirement, the second reduction this year and the latest monetary easing measure aimed at kickstarting growth in the world's number-two economy.

It has also cut interest rates twice since November.

The Hong Kong and Shanghai share markets have been soaring as investors speculate that Chinese leaders will continue to loosen monetary policy to counter a sharp slowdown.

"The immediate question for traders this morning is whether the weekend news of additional stimulus initiatives in China will help offset the negative impact of growing concerns over Greece and signs of improving inflation in the US," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst in Sydney at CMC Markets, told Bloomberg News.

He said the cut was bigger than expected but that "when the dust settles, investor reaction may be limited as they weigh concerns about the state of the underlying economy".

The news was tempered by the China Securities Regulatory Commission's decision to tighten rules on margin trading - where investors buy shares mostly with borrowed money - which has helped propel the recent rally.

At the same time authorities made it easier to short sell, or bet against stocks.

On Wall Street the Dow sank 1.54 per cent, the S&P 500 fell 1.13 per cent and the Nasdaq dropped 1.52 per cent on fears about Greece's future in the eurozone as it struggles to secure the release of much-needed bailout cash.

Athens was told Saturday to urgently deliver a detailed fiscal and debt plan to official lenders, while European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi cautioned that not reaching an agreement would take the situation into "uncharted waters." There are fears that if the country does not service its huge debts it will default and tumble out of the eurozone, fuelling worries about the knock-on effects for the global economy.

European stocks fell sharply Friday, with Germany's DAX 30 index tumbling 2.58 per cent and France's CAC 40 in Paris down 1.55 per cent.

On foreign exchange markets the euro edged down to US$1.0795 and 128.40 yen from US$1.0810 and 128.49 yen in New York Friday.

The dollar fetched 118.95 yen compared with 118.86 yen.

Oil prices were higher. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery gained 58 cents to US$56.32 and Brent crude for June rose 63 cents to US$64.08 in morning trade.

Gold fetched US$1,205.46 against US$1,205.91 late Friday.

AFP