HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Asian markets ended sharply lower Thursday, as weak data, declining commodity prices and poorly received earnings put pressure on major markets a day ahead of a much-awaited speech from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +0.53% fell 1%, South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 +0.13% lost 1.2%, and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO +0.41% fell 0.9%.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI +0.03% finished 1.2% lower, its lowest closing level since late July 27.
Among the few upbeat markets, the Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 +1.25% ended little changed, recouping from losses, after closing at a fresh three-and-a-half year low on Wednesday.
Indonesia’s Composite Index retreated 2%, while India’s Sensex was down 0.3% late.
The Asia Dow was off 0.8%.
Piper Jaffray sales trader Andrew Sullivan in Hong Kong said the weak tone was global, with U.S. futures indicating a softer opening when regular trading gets underway later in the trading day.
“Expectations for anything dramatic from Jackson Hole [are] obviously receding,” Sullivan wrote in a note Thursday, referring to a speech due to be delivered Friday by Bernanke at an annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
The losses in Asia contrasted with mild gains for Wall Street stocks Wednesday after the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book reported gradual U.S. economic expansion. Read more on Beige Book.
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Perpetual strategist Matthew Sherwood also said investors may be disappointed by Bernanke’s speech.
“It is unlikely that the Fed chairman will announce anything in his talk, and with the U.S. fiscal cliff approaching, it would probably be wiser to hold onto whatever policy ammunition he has left, for when the growth battle arrives, instead of firing your weapon before the enemy has arrived,” he said.
Weighing on Japanese shares Thursday were weaker retail data, showing overall retail sales turning negative in July with a 0.8% drop from a year earlier, the first such fall since November. Sales for the large retailers plunged 4.4%, accelerating a recent downward trend. Read more on Japan retail sales data.
Retailers fell in Tokyo after the data, with J. Front Retailing Co. /zigman2/quotes/209287176/delayed JP:3086 +0.34% , down 2%; Fast Retailing Co. /zigman2/quotes/200663563/delayed JP:9983 +0.88% /zigman2/quotes/208569095/delayed FRCOF -0.14% , lower by 1.4%; and Seven & I Holdings Co. /zigman2/quotes/207666111/delayed JP:3382 +0.77% /zigman2/quotes/203868267/delayed SVNDF -2.14% , retreating 2%.
Mining and metals
Meanwhile, declining commodity prices helped take steel-mill shares lower in Japan, even in the face of another steep drop in iron-ore prices to just above $90 a tonne.
Nippon Steel Corp. /zigman2/quotes/209782682/delayed JP:5401 0.00% /zigman2/quotes/203679980/delayed NISTF +1.95% fell 3.6%, Kobe Steel Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/207391157/delayed JP:5406 -0.16% lost 1.6% and JFE Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204336633/delayed JP:5411 +0.63% /zigman2/quotes/203557603/delayed JFEEF +0.60% retreated by 2.8%.