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Asian stocks mostly lower, Tokyo hit by economy data


[HONG KONG] Asian markets mostly fell on Monday with Tokyo tumbling almost two percent after data showed Japan's economy had slipped into recession, while Hong Kong and Shanghai were mixed on the first day of a landmark link-up between the two indexes.

A day after heads of the Group of 20 pledged to boost the global economy by US$2 trillion in four years, Tokyo authorities said Japan had contracted for a second straight month, fuelling expectations of a snap election and the delay of a planned sales tax hike.

Tokyo, which has surged more than 10 per cent this month, sank 1.92 per cent and Sydney fell 0.56 per cent, while Hong Kong lost 0.14 per cent and Shanghai put on 0.11 per cent. Seoul was 0.10 per cent lower.

Official figures out of Tokyo showed the Japanese economy shrunk 0.4 percent - or at an annualised rate of 1.6 per cent - in July-September, confounding forecasts for 0.5 per cent growth. It also followed a revised 1.9 per cent contraction in April-June - or 7.3 per cent at an annualised rate.

Two consecutive quarters of contraction is considered a technical recession.

The result makes it almost inevitable that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will delay a sales tax hike due next October and call snap elections for next month.

The economy had expanded in the first three months of the year, but an April 1 increase in sales tax - aimed at paying off a huge national debt - hammered consumer spending and slammed the brakes on a nascent recovery.

Last month, the Bank of Japan moved to kickstart growth again by expanding its already vast monetary easing programme - sending the Nikkei stock index surging and yen plunging - but the latest data will lead to speculation of further measures.

"In light of the sharp fall in today's preliminary estimate, it now looks likely that PM Abe will call off the hike and announce snap elections," Marcel Thieliant from Capital Economics said in a report following the data release.

The announcement briefly sent the dollar above 117 yen before retreating to 115.98 yen, against 116.26 yen in New York Friday.

The euro fetched US$1.2535 and 145.73 yen compared with US$1.2523 and 145.66 yen.

Shares in Hong Kong and Shanghai reversed initial gains to sink into negative territory despite the start of the exchange link, which is expected to see billions of dollars in cross-border transactions each day.

The two markets have enjoyed strong gains since the launch date was announced.

"Now that the stock trading link has materialised, all the expectations have been fulfilled and people need to take a breather," Zhang Gang, senior analyst at Central China Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

"But I am still optimistic about the medium-term prospects of the market, especially if China further relaxes its monetary policy to support the slowing economy." Oil prices were lower. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for December delivery fell six cents US$75.76, while Brent crude for January was down 16 US cents to US$79.25.

Gold was at US$1,193.76 an ounce, compared with US$1,152.81 late Friday.