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Asian Shares Fall On Trade, Growth Worries


Asian stocks fell on Friday amid growth and trade worries after the European Commission lowered its forecasts for the eurozone and a report said U.S. President Donald Trump does not plan to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the deadline for reaching a trade deal.

Japanese shares led regional losses to hit a one-month low as the yen strengthened on fresh worries about the U.S.-China trade dispute. Weak earnings results also sapped investors' appetite for risk.

The Nikkei 225 Index plunged 418.11 points or 2 percent to 20,333.17, marking its biggest single-day percentage loss since early January and the lowest closing level since January 10th. The broader Topix closed 1.9 percent lower at 1,539.40.

Nikon Corp. slumped 11.7 percent after cutting its annual operating profit forecast for its imaging business. Machinery makers Komatsu, Hitachi Construction Machinery and Fanuc lost 3-4 percent on concerns over Chinese demand. Sony soared 4.1 percent after announcing a share buyback.

On the economic front, a government report showed that Japan posted a current account surplus of 452.8 billion yen in December, down 43.1 percent year-on-year. That was shy of expectations for a surplus of 458.5 billion yen and down from 757.2 billion yen in November.

Japan's trade balance in December showed a surplus of 216.2 billion yen, exceeding forecasts for 132.4 billion yen following the 559.1 billion yen deficit in the previous month.

Average household spending in Japan was up a discontinuity adjusted 0.1 percent year-on-year in December, missing expectations for an increase of 0.9 percent.

Australian markets ended in the red as worries over growth and trade prompted traders to book some profits in the mining and energy sectors. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 21 points or 0.3 percent to 6,071.50, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended down 22.90 points or 0.4 percent at 6,136.20.

Mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto as well as smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group ended down between 1.5 percent and 1.8 percent on profit taking after recent sharp gains.

Banks ended mixed after rallying the previous day as the central bank indicated that interest rates could move in either direction.

Energy stocks snapped a four-day winning streak as oil extended overnight losses on concerns about a slump in global demand.

Woodside Petroleum, Santos, Origin Energy and Oil Search lost 2-4 percent, while Beach Energy plummeted 9.7 percent.

REA Group, which is 61.6 percent owned by News Corp., plunged 5 percent. The company said its Australian real estate listings declined 3 percent in the first half. It also warned of further possible declines in the second half of the year due to Federal and State elections.

Seoul shares tumbled amid concerns about U.S.-China trade talks. The benchmark Kospi dropped 26.37 points or 1.2 percent to 2,177.05.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dipped 0.2 percent as traders returned to their desks after a Lunar New Year break, while markets in Taiwan and mainland China remained closed for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Meanwhile, New Zealand shares rose modestly, with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index rising 43.10 points or 0.5 percent to 9,176.61 on hopes for interest rate cuts.

Overnight, U.S. stocks closed lower after CNBC reported that a Trump-Xi meeting is highly unlikely before a March 1 deadline, but the U.S. is likely to keep tariffs at 10 percent rather than raise them to 25 percent as scheduled.

The report came after White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox Business the U.S. and China have a "pretty sizable distance to go" before reaching a trade deal.

The Dow and the S&P 500 dropped around 0.9 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 1.2 percent.

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