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Asia: Shares retreat after China data

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 11:16
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[HONG KONG] Asian equity markets turned lower on Tuesday after a gauge of Chinese manufacturing plunged to an 11-month low in March, while the euro was boosted by hopes of a breakthrough in Greece's bailout talks with Germany.

Comments from the US Federal Reserve's vice chairman suggesting interest rates would rise slower than expected put further downward pressure on the dollar.

Shanghai - which rose Monday for a ninth straight session to a near seven year high - sank 0.60 per cent, while Hong Kong lost 0.33 per cent.

Tokyo shed 0.19 per cent and Seoul was 0.11 per cent lower. Sydney was flat.

Global markets have been on a broad uptrend since the Fed on Wednesday tempered talk of an early summer rate hike by saying there were still weaknesses in the US economy.

However, traders retreated to the sidelines on Tuesday after HSBC's preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI) suggested manufacturing activity saw a surprise contraction in March.

The index came in at 49.2, well down from February's 50.7 and far off the 50.5 forecast in a Bloomberg survey.

Anything below 50 indicates contraction and a reading above points to growth.

The figures are the latest to highlight a slowdown in the world's number two economy and will likely put pressure on authorities to unveil fresh monetary easing measures. They also come after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang this month said the government had the firepower to support the economy if it continued to struggle.

In currency trade, the euro dipped slightly after enjoying a recent rally as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

The single currency on Monday jumped from US$1.0770 and 129.41 yen to US$1.0945 and 131.02 yen in New York as the pair began their meeting to discuss Athens' plans to renegotiate its austerity-laden bailout.

Analysts said hopes for a deal between the two countries - who have traded barbs in recent weeks - increased as the talks got off to a good start. In early Asian trade the euro was at US$1.0920 and 130.82 yen.

The dollar fetched 119.74 yen against 119.71 yen in New York late Monday.

The greenback took a hit after Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer said there would not be a "smooth upward path" for interest rates, which analysts took as further indication that the central bank will wait before announcing a hike.

"Fischer's comments have had a considerable impact on markets amid the market sentiment that has turned against the dollar since last week's Fed meeting," Keisuke Hino, a foreign-exchange trader at Mizuho Bank in New York, told Bloomberg News.

"The one-sided dollar buying scenario has crumbled so there is still scope for more dollar selling." On Wall Street the Dow edged down 0.06 per cent, the S&P 500 shed 0.17 per cent and the Nasdaq eased 0.31 per cent.

Oil prices edged lower. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate eased 26 cents to US$47.19 while Brent fell 15 cents to US$55.77.

Gold fetched US$1,183.26 against US$1,183.26 late Monday.

AFP