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Asia: Shares slip after US, China data

[HONG KONG] Asian markets mostly fell Monday following a rout on Wall Street in response to disappointing US growth data, while two closely watched gauges indicated Chinese manufacturing activity contracted in January.

Oil prices plunged again after enjoying a strong rally on Friday, while the euro ticked up, despite falling eurozone prices and ongoing concerns about Greece's bailout face-off with its international creditors.

Tokyo slipped 0.54 per cent by lunch, Hong Kong lost 0.66 per cent, Shanghai was 2.00 per cent lower and Seoul shed 0.10 per cent - but Sydney added 0.88 per cent.

The week got off to a poor start after the Commerce Department said Friday that the US economy expended at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent in the fourth quarter, well below the 5.0 per cent in the previous three months.

Adding to selling pressure was news that prices in the eurozone fell by a record 0.6 per cent in January, fanning concerns that the currency bloc is facing years of deflation.

The Dow sank 1.45 per cent, the S&P 500 lost 1.30 per cent and the Nasdaq fell 1.03 per cent.

Traders were also reacting Monday to news that China's official purchasing managers index (PMI) of manufacturing actvity unexpectedly retreated last month for the first time since late 2012.

Data Sunday showed its PMI at 49.8 last month, against 50.1 in December. Anything below 50 points to contraction and anything above indicates growth.

On Monday HSBC said its January PMI was 49.7, a tad up from 49.6 in December but still showing shrinkage.

The results are the latest to highlight the weakness of China's economy, which in 2014 grew at its slowest pace in 24 years. However, it will fan talk of further monetary easing measures.

"We think demand in the manufacturing sector remains weak and more aggressive monetary and fiscal easing measures will be needed to prevent another sharp slowdown in growth," Qu Hongbin, HSBC chief economist for China, said in the release announcing the bank's figure.

On currency markets the dollar was at 117.80 yen in early trade against 117.59 yen in New York late Friday.

The euro bought US$1.1308 and 133.21 yen against $1.1284 and 132.70 yen in New York.

Traders moved into the single currency after taking a hit Friday on the inflation news and reports that Greece had refused to meet its creditors and rejected fresh loans.

The new anti-austerity Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said that despite warnings Greece would shortly run out of money, the far-left Syriza-led government preferred to do without the fresh cash, and instead renegotiate its entire bailout.

On Sunday, as Varoufakis began a tour of Europe to win support for a new debt package, Athens was given a boost when US President Barack Obama told European leaders that imposing tough austerity measures on the country could backfire.

"You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression," he told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS".

"At some point, there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts to eliminate some of their deficits." On oil markets US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for March delivery fell US$1.55 to $46.69, while Brent crude for March closed down US$1.53 at $51.46.

Gold fetched US$1,280.33 an ounce, down from US$1,264.49 on Friday.