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Asia stocks mostly lower after China, US data


[HONG KONG] Most Asian markets slipped Monday after another batch of poor Chinese data added to fears about the Asian economic giant, while a strong US jobs report fuelled expectations the Federal Reserve will bring forward an interest rate hike.

Oil prices advanced after last week enjoying their best weekly gains in four years, while traders are watching events in Europe as Greece's new anti-austerity government prepares to meet its creditors.

Tokyo edged up 0.19 per cent by the break as the yen softened against the dollar in reaction to the US jobs data. But Hong Kong eased 0.61 per cent, Shanghai lost 0.40 per cent and Seoul shed 0.39 per cent. Sydney, which jumped more than 10 per cent during a 12-day winning streak, dipped 0.44 per cent.

China on Sunday said exports fell 3.2 per cent year on year in January, while imports plunged 19.7 per cent - the largest drop in five years - owing to lower commodity prices and sluggish domestic demand.

The figures are the latest illustration of China's slowing economy, which in 2014 expanded at its lowest rate in 24 years.

They could also put pressure on authorities to further loosen monetary policy to kickstart growth after last week cutting the amount of cash lenders must keep in reserve and lowering interest rates in November.

Investors are also tracking the US Fed after a better-than-expected jobs report on Friday increased the chances of an early rate hike.

The Labor Department said 257,000 jobs were created in January and revised upward already healthy growth in the prior two months. It also said hourly wage growth gained 0.5 per cent, a big improvement after a December drop.

"This US jobs report has altered market expectations for rate rises from the Fed with many now expecting the Fed to raise rates in the early summer," said Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG Wealth Management LLP in London.

"We will see just how brave the Fed will be," he told Bloomberg News.

Wall Street's three main indexes ended lower. The Dow dipped 0.34 per cent, the S&P 500 also lost 0.34 per cent and the Nasdaq gave up 0.43 per cent.

The dollar rallied Friday following the announcement, climbing to 119.00 yen in New York from 117.33 yen in Tokyo earlier in the day. On Monday it was at 118.88 yen.

The euro bought US$1.1323 and 134.61 yen on Monday against US$1.1316 and 134.65 yen in US trade.

On oil markets the two main contracts extended their recent gains following the US jobs data as well as a decline in the number of US rigs drilling.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose 54 cents to US$52.23 while Brent crude for March rose 35 cents to US$58.15.

Last week saw WTI surge 13.6 per cent and Brent add 9.4 per cent, their best weekly gains since February 2011.

Gold fetched US$1,238.27 an ounce, against US$1,264.34 on Friday.