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Asia: Shares mixed after China slump

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[HONG KONG] Asian shares were mixed on Wednesday, with Shanghai continuing a sharp sell-off on concerns the world's number two economy is slowing and as investors awaited clues for the timing of a US interest rate rise.

Sydney rose 1.33 per cent in early trading while Seoul dropped 1.10 per cent.

Tokyo fell 0.45 per cent after news Japan's trade deficit fell a less-than-expected 72.3 per cent year-on-year in July due to falling energy costs and a pick-up in exports.

Hong Kong rose 0.25 per cent but Shanghai dropped 1.87 per cent, continuing its downward trajectory the day after China's benchmark share index suffered its steepest fall in three weeks.

"Market sentiment is likely to be influenced by what happens on the Chinese exchanges today," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, told Bloomberg News.

"Investors remain particularly sensitive to developments in China after last week's currency devaluation and are looking for comfort that things are not worse than they seem."

Tuesday's more than six per cent slump in Shanghai dragged down European shares and hit commodities, rattling markets already jittery after Beijing's surprise devaluation.

Falling demand in the world's top consumer of industrial metals and energy - and the prospect of an impending US interest rate hike - pushed Bloomberg's commodity index to its lowest level since 2002.

Oil prices fell further in Asia ahead of the release of minutes from the most recent meeting of the US Federal Reserve.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for September lost 22 cents to US$42.40 and Brent crude for October lost 28 cents to US$48.53 a barrel in morning trade.

Concerns about China also weighed on Tokyo shares after data showed Japan's deficit shrank to 268.05 billion yen (S$3 billion) last month against 966.5 billion yen a year earlier.

Economists had predicted the shortfall would shrink to around 53 billion yen, but a rise in automobile exports and a fall in energy imports cut the trade disparity even further.

The lacklustre data came two days after news the world's third-biggest economy contracted last quarter, boosting speculation the central bank will unleash more stimulus as Tokyo's Abenomics growth blitz stumbles.

"Another big drop in Chinese equities is leading to concern over the Chinese economy and a lack of transparency in the global economy," Hiroichi Nishi, a manager at SMBC Nikko Securities, told Bloomberg News.

"We're lacking reasons to aggressively buy in Japan." The dollar traded sideways in Asia ahead of the release of the Fed minutes, due later on Wednesday, for clues on when it will next hike interest rates.

Some dealers expect that the first rise in US interest rates in almost a decade could come as early as next month after a raft of signs the world's top economy is strengthening.

The greenback fetched 124.38 yen, unchanged from New York trade late Tuesday.

The euro was slightly up at US$1.1031 and 137.20 yen against US$1.1029 and 137.19 yen.

Gold was at US$1,117.65 compared to US$1,119.83 late Tuesday.

AFP