Asian stocks fell broadly on Wednesday, as weak Japanese data added to evidence that the global economy is slowing. A lack of clarity on the mechanisms for ECB intervention in debt markets also rendered the underlying mood a little bit cautious ahead of a euro-area finance ministers meeting this week to discuss a bailout package for Greece.
Tokyo stocks eased slightly in thin trading, as investors moved to the sidelines ahead of the release of the FOMC minutes from the August 1st meeting due later in the day and the meeting of European leaders over the weekend.
The Nikkei average dropped 0.3 percent, with cyclicals and export-oriented electronics and precision instrument makers coming under pressure on growing concerns about the global economy after data released by the Finance Ministry showed Japan posted its largest-ever trade deficit in July. The broader Topix index also ended 0.3 percent lower.
Japan posted a wider-than-expected trade deficit for July, with merchandise deficit widening to 517.382 billion yen in the month compared with forecasts for a shortfall of 270.0 billion yen following the downwardly revised 60.3 billion surplus in June.
TDK, Tokyo Electron and Panasonic all dropped about 3 percent each. Nintendo slipped 0.6 percent and Kyocera fell 1.2 percent after the U.S. International Trade Commission said it had launched a patent probe into certain wireless consumer electronics devices and components from U.S. and foreign companies.
China's Shanghai Composite index shed half a percent on concerns over slowing growth both domestically and abroad, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index lost over a percent, dragged down by resource and tech stocks.
Australian shares ended an indecisive session modestly lower, as earnings from BHP Billiton failed to inspire investors. Both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries index fell about 0.2 percent each. Shares of BHP Billiton edged down 0.3 percent as the miner reported a 35 percent slump in full-year net profit and said it would investigate a new and cheaper design for its planned Olympic Dam open-pit expansion. Rio Tinto slid 0.6 percent, while smaller rival Fortescue rose 2.5 percent.
Banks ended mostly lower as investors shifted their money out of the sector following recent gains. Commonwealth fell 0.8 percent and NAB eased 0.4 percent, but ANZ and Westpac ended marginally higher. Oil & gas producer Woodside Petroleum retreated 3.1 percent despite reporting a 4.5 percent rise in underlying half-year profit, while Santos tumbled 3.4 percent.
Seoul shares fell for a fourth straight session, as traders looked ahead to major events in Europe and the United States in the coming weeks. The benchmark Kospi average slipped 0.4 percent. Economy-sensitive shipbuilders led the declines, while SK Chemicals rose 1.3 percent after reporting a 43 percent jump in second-quarter profit. Korea Zinc rallied 2.5 percent as gold prices hovered near a 3-1/2 month high hit in the previous session.
New Zealand shares lost ground after Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction firm, reported disappointing earnings results, with full-year profit tumbling 35 percent, weighed down by lower revenue from the struggling Australian and New Zealand markets. Fletcher shares plunged 5.1 percent, dragging the benchmark NZX-50 index down about 0.8 percent.
Online auction site Trade Me fell 2.5 percent despite posting forecast-beating results, while national carrier Air New Zealand and rubber goods and milking equipment manufacturer Skellerup fell about 2 percent each.
Heavyweight Telecom lost 1.1 percent ahead of its results on Friday. PGG Wrightson rallied 9.4 percent after the rural services firm returned to profit in the 2012 financial year on the back of improved performance at its rural supplies and livestock divisions.
Elsewhere, India's benchmark Sensex is marginally higher and Malaysia's KLSE Composite rose 0.2 percent, while the Taiwan Weighted average and Singapore's Straits Times index fell by 0.1 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.
U.S. stocks failed to sustain an early upward move overnight, as traders seemed somewhat reluctant to continue buying stocks following recent strength and amid a lack of major U.S. economic data. The Dow slid half a percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq slipped 0.3 percent and the S&P 500 lost 0.4 percent.
by RTT Staff Writer
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