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Asia: Markets sink with Wall Street as pharma firms hit by Trump tweet

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets followed a US and European sell-off on Wednesday, with pharmaceutical firms hit after Donald Trump said he wanted to boost price competition in the sector.

This week has seen equity and forex traders take a step back after February's rally, with Friday's US jobs in focus and the Federal Reserve preparing for a much-anticipated policy meeting on March 14.

Pharma firms tumbled in New York and across Europe after Mr Trump tweeted: "I am working on a new system where there will be competition in the Drug Industry. Pricing for the American people will come way down!" That came as Republicans released plans to tear up key parts of Obamacare, fuelling worries about cutbacks.

The losses were tracked by Asian drugs companies, with Tokyo-listed Takeda Pharmaceutical and Astellas each losing around one percent, while in Taipei SchinoPharm was 1.4 per cent off and Mayne Pharma Group shed almost four percent in Sydney.

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The losses seeped through to wider stock markets. Tokyo lost 0.5 per cent by the break, with investors unmoved by revised data showing the Japanese economy grew more than first estimated in the final quarter of 2016 but still missing expectations.

Sydney was off 0.2 per cent, Seoul fell 0.1 per cent and Singapore was flat.

Shanghai lost 0.1 per cent prior to the release of key import and export results from China, with hopes for another big improvement following a recent string of upbeat results.

On Tuesday the People's Bank of China said its foreign exchange reserves unexpectedly bounced back above US$3 trillion in February, indicating tighter controls have staunched a flood of cash out of the country as the US prepares to hike borrowing costs.

"It suggests that Chinese authorities have indeed managed to stem the capital flight that so many investors are worried about. Naturally it's done that through capital controls," Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and forex provider AxiTrader, said.

"It doesn't mean China is out of the woods, especially with the Fed about to embark on a rate hike cycle, but it seems the pressure has been released for the moment."

Hong Kong slipped 0.1 per cent but Chinese telecoms giant ZTE surged almost five per cent after agreeing to pay a US$1.2 billion fine to US authorities for breaking laws restricting the sale of goods to Iran and North Korea.

Analysts said the deal ended years of uncertainty about its ability to trade in the world's biggest economy.

The main focus of attention this week is on the US non-farm payrolls figures Friday, which will be followed by the Fed policy meeting. Expectations are for a strong jobs reading, which unless disappointing will be followed by the Fed's first rate hike this year.

The dollar edged down against its peers but analysts said investors are keeping their powder dry until Friday's figures.

The events come as markets grow concerned Mr Trump's promised spending and tax-cut drive - which has fuelled the global market rally since November - could take longer than hoped.

Banking giant Barclays cited the health policy debate, as well as probes into Trump's relationship with Russia, as a reason to revise its forecasts for 2017 and 2018.