SYDNEY (MarketWatch) — Chinese trade data out Friday did little to soothe worries in Asia about future monetary-policy tightening moves from Beijing, although bargain hunting helped support some regional stock markets.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.09% dropped 0.8% to 22,420.37, and South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -1.49% fell 1.2%, though China’s Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 -0.06% managed to crawl back from sharp losses to close 0.1% higher.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.39% moved off its 1.3% gain for the morning session, but still ended 0.5% higher at 9,514.44. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.33% closed up 0.3% at 4,562.10.
Chinese trade data released Friday morning was weaker than expected. While the data showed May exports up 19.4% from a year earlier, the pace marked a sharp easing from a 29.9% rise in April, and was below a forecast of 20.4% tipped in a Dow Jones Newswires survey of economists. See report on Chinese trade data.
Asia's Week Ahead: China inflation
China will release some key economic data for May, including inflation figures, and investors will get to see Japan's core machinery orders data for April. The Bank of Japan's policy board will also meet. MarketWatch's Lisa Twaronite in Tokyo reports.
Still, some analysts saw little to suggest the People’s Bank of China would step back from its policy tightening, with strategists at RBC Capital Markets saying the numbers should “reinforce the case for further rate hikes.“
Rate-sensitive property stocks were among the loss-leaders in Hong Kong, with Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/209086152/delayed HK:16 -1.06% /zigman2/quotes/205427525/delayed SUHJY +0.14% falling 2.1%, Hang Lung Properties Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200230831/delayed HK:101 -0.33% /zigman2/quotes/204283712/delayed HLPPF -4.95% down 2.3%, and Sino Land Co. /zigman2/quotes/202960683/delayed HK:83 -1.47% /zigman2/quotes/207532535/delayed SNLAF +2.86% ending with a 2.7% loss.
Many globally focused shares also ceded ground, with Li & Fung Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201795755/delayed HK:494 -1.41% /zigman2/quotes/201638706/delayed LFUGY -2.86% down 3.5%, Alibaba.com Ltd. dropping 4.9%, and Tsingtao Brewery Co. /zigman2/quotes/206288083/delayed HK:168 -2.56% /zigman2/quotes/209797377/delayed TSGTF +0.70% losing 1.9% of its value.
In Tokyo, the picture was more mixed. Panasonic Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201785256/delayed JP:6752 +0.50% /zigman2/quotes/201732539/delayed PCRFF -0.98% ended with a 1.4% gain, while Honda Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/200490352/delayed JP:7267 -0.07% /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -1.02% and rival Toyota Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 +1.10% /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -0.05% rose 0.9% each.
But Hitachi Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203839937/delayed JP:6501 -0.26% lost 1.1%, Sharp Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203224600/delayed JP:6753 -0.54% /zigman2/quotes/207472799/delayed SHCAF +3.24% fell 1%, and Elpida Memory Inc. gave up 1.4%.
The China data followed figures out Thursday showing the U.S. trade gap narrowing, which sparked optimism for economic growth trends there and helped U.S. stocks rebound from their longest losing stretch so far this year. Read more on Thursday's U.S. stock performance.
Stocks have suffered in recent sessions, in the U.S. as well as in Asia, amid concerns about the outlook for economic growth following a string of downbeat data.
“After some recent weakness, there’s been some bargain hunting, as people come back into the market,” said Lucinda Chan, division director at Macquarie Private Wealth.
“The trade data was quite good in the U.S., and there’s been some — I believe — cabinet decision-making by the Greek government on austerity measures, and that’s a bit of a positive as well,” she said.
But Chan added that “the issues are still out there, they haven’t gone away. ... It’s very much a dividend-related market, because investors want to be defensive to be comfortable.”
In South Korea, Hynix Semiconductor /zigman2/quotes/203669196/delayed HXSCL 0.00% shares fell 7%. The firm’s creditor shareholders are planing to sell their 15% controlling stake in the firm, valued at 2.58 trillion Korean won ($2.39 billion), according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, which cited a person familiar with the situation.
Also weighing on Seoul-listed shares, the Bank of Korea hiked its key policy rate by a quarter point to 3.25% on Friday, surprising the majority of economists cited in separate surveys by Dow Jones Newswires and Reuters. See report on Korea’s surprise rate hike.
With oil futures over $102 a barrel in Nymex electronic trading, and with metal futures firm, some energy and resource firms gained, with Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. /zigman2/quotes/201212147/delayed JP:1662 -1.14% /zigman2/quotes/202925532/delayed JPTXF -1.12% up 2.6% in Tokyo, and Extract Resources Ltd. rising 1.7% in Sydney.