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Asia: Markets mostly lower but Japan GDP supports Tokyo

Asian markets mostly retreated on Wednesday following recent gains but Tokyo extended a rally as the yen sank and data showed Japan's economy growing more than expected.

[HONG KONG] Asian markets mostly retreated on Wednesday following recent gains but Tokyo extended a rally as the yen sank and data showed Japan's economy growing more than expected.

The euro suffered fresh losses after a European Central Bank official said it would ramp up its massive bond-buying programme, while Greece's debt reform talks with its creditors continued to lumber along.

Tokyo rose 0.63 per cent, although car parts maker Takata plunged 12 per cent after a recall of US cars fitted with the firm's airbags doubled to 34 million.

Hong Kong slipped 0.29 per cent and Sydney dipped 0.55 per cent while Singapore shed 0.32 per cent and Taipei eased 0.36 per cent.

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Shanghai gained 0.55 per cent and Seoul put on 0.42 per cent.

Official Japanese data showed the economy grew 0.6 per cent in the first three months of the year, after limping out of recession in the previous quarter. The figure was better than the revised 0.3 per cent expansion in October-December and beat the market median forecast of a 0.4 per cent on-quarter increase.

"The January-March GDP growth data were good... and buoyed sentiment," said Takuya Takahashi, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

"Corporate earnings for the fiscal year to March were (also) generally good and many companies took measures to return surplus to shareholders," he added, referring to share buy-backs and dividend hikes.


Despite the result reducing the likelihood the Bank of Japan will further loosen monetary policy, the yen weakened further against the dollar with upbeat US figures supporting the greenback.

The dollar bought 120.90 yen early Wednesday, compared with 120.68 yen in New York and well above 119.94 yen in Tokyo earlier Tuesday.

US housing starts in April climbed 20.2 per cent to their highest level since November 2007, while there was a 10.1 per cent jump in home building permits. The report seemed to indicate that the economy's abysmal first quarter was largely related to severe winter weather.

On Wall Street, the Dow edged up 0.07 per cent to an all-time high for the second day in a row but the S&P 500 slipped 0.06 per cent, ending a three-day streak of record closures. The Nasdaq dropped 0.17 per cent.

Traders were now waiting for the release of minutes from Federal Reserve's April 28-29 policy meeting to be released later Wednesday, looking for clues about its plan for lifting interest rates from record lows.

The euro eased to US$1.1133 and 134.60 yen in Tokyo from US$1.1149 and 134.54 yen in US trade after the ECB official said it would increase its asset purchases in May and June to offset an expected financial market slowdown later in the year.

In Tokyo, Takata took another heavy blow after the announcement of a recall of US cars using its airbags, which have been linked to at least five deaths.

Among the automakers affected are Honda, Toyota, General Motors, BMW and Ford.

Oil prices rebounded following sharp losses in the previous session owing to oversupply worries and a stronger dollar. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July delivery rose 43 cents to US$58.42 while Brent crude for July gained 42 cents to US$64.44.

Gold fetched US$1,208.33 compared with US$1,220.91 late Tuesday.