Asian markets mixed on global growth fears

by Danny McCord, AFP

Posted at Mar 30 2012 12:45 PM | Updated as of Mar 30 2012 08:46 PM

Hong Kong - Asian markets were mixed on Friday amid growing concerns over the global economy after an unimpressive set of US data, while weak Japanese figures and a stronger yen weighed on Tokyo.

Trade was also subdued as investors balanced their books on the last day of the quarter, which saw a rally at the start of the year subside in the final few weeks.

Tokyo slipped 0.16 percent by the break, Hong Kong was 0.63% off, Sydney gained 0.48%, Shanghai added 0.35% and Seoul climbed 0.13%.

Wall Street again provided an unenthusiastic lead. New claims for unemployment benefit hit a four-year low but the rate of decline was slower than anticipated, according to analysts.

Traders also took little notice of confirmation that the world's biggest economy grew 3% in the October-December quarter.

The Dow closed 0.15% higher, the S&P 500 lost 0.16% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq gave up 0.31%.

Japan was unable to provide any perk after announcing an unexpected 1.2% fall in February industrial production, against forecasts for a 1.3% rise.

The fall comes after Tokyo said the weak economy was showing signs of picking up after industrial production in January rose by a revised 1.9%.

The results out of Washington and Tokyo are the latest to pour cold water on a recent spurt of optimism over the global economy that had been fuelled by rising US jobs growth and an easing of Europe's debt crisis.

"Worries about global growth have been steadily increasing with the lengthening patch of softer data," Barclays Capital said in a note.

"Financial markets are starting to price in concerns about a slowdown in China," it added, referring to a spate of figures from Beijing that show slumping exports and contracting manufacturing activity in the Asian giant.

Increased concerns have led investors back to the safe haven of the yen in the past two weeks, helping it claw back some of its recent losses.

The dollar was at 82.01 yen in Tokyo from 82.42 late Thursday in New York, where the greenback briefly dropped to 81.90. The US unit had flirted with the 84-yen level earlier in the month after Japan announced fresh monetary easing.

The euro bought 109.47 yen, compared with 109.64 yen in New York, well down from the 111.00 yen seen last week. The euro was also at $1.3349 compared with $1.3301.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in May, gained 63 cents to $103.41 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for May was up 35 cents at $122.74.

Gold was at $1,660.85 an ounce at 0350 GMT, compared with $1,656.60 late Thursday.