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Asian Shares Tumble As Growth Worries Intensify


Asian stocks fell sharply on Friday after the European Central Bank downgraded its 2019 GDP forecast and China reported worse than expected trade data for the month of February.

Investors also looked ahead to the release of the U.S. Labor Department's closely watched monthly jobs report for February later in the day.

China's Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 136.56 points or 4.4 percent to 2,969.86, the biggest slump since October, after official data showed Chinese exports tumbled the most in three years in February and imports fell for a third straight month. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index plunged 551.03 points or 1.9 percent to 28,228.42.

Chinese exports nosedived 20.7 percent in February from a year earlier, reflecting weaker demand and distortions from the Lunar New Year holiday. That was far below expectations for a 4.8 percent drop. Imports fell 5.2 percent after a 1.5 percent decrease in January.

Japanese shares extended losses for a fourth straight session to hit a three-week low, as a downward revision of the ECB's growth/inflation projections as well as weak Chinese data sapped investors' appetite for risk. Meanwhile, a raft of domestic data proved to be a mixed bag.

The Cabinet Office said in a final reading that Japanese GDP gained a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent sequentially in the fourth quarter of 2018. That beat expectations for an increase of 0.4 percent.

Current account surplus and household spending figures for January topped forecasts, while bank lending grew an annual 2.3 percent in February, down from 2.4 percent in January.

The Nikkei 225 Index tumbled 430.45 points or 2 percent to 21,025.56, the lowest closing level since February 15th and the biggest single-day loss since February 8th. The broader Topix closed 1.8 percent lower at 1,572.44.

Kawasaki Kisen slumped 12.6 percent after saying it would carry out business structural reforms. Mitsui OSK Lines lost 3 percent and Nippon Yusen retreated 3.2 percent. In the technology sector, Advantest tumbled 5.7 percent and Tokyo Electron gave up 3.6 percent.

Financials also ended mostly lower after the yield on 10-year Treasury note fell the most in nine weeks on global growth concerns. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group declined 2.3 percent and Dai-ichi Life Holdings plunged 4.8 percent.

Australian markets fell sharply as the ECB's dovish turn with a surprise decision to offer more stimulus added to investor concerns about growth.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index tumbled 60.10 points or 1 percent to 6,203.80, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended down 57.10 points or 0.9 percent at 6,287.10.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia lost 2 percent and Westpac Banking dropped 1.3 percent as their chief executives appeared before the parliamentary committee to answer questions related to widespread misconduct in the sector. ANZ declined 2.3 percent and NAB shed 1.1 percent.

Mining heavyweight BHP fell 1.3 percent and Rio Tinto gave up 1.6 percent after copper prices fell overnight.

Automotive Holdings Group plunged 3.7 percent and Infigen Energy plummeted 6.5 percent after S&P Dow Jones Indices said they would be removed from the benchmark on March 18th.

Seoul stocks also plunged, with the benchmark Kospi closing down 28.35 point or 1.3 percent at 2,137.44, its lowest closing level since January 24.

South Korea posted a current account surplus of $2.77 billion in January, the Bank of Korea said, down from $4.82 billion in December. The goods account surplus narrowed to $5.61 billion compared to the $7.55 billion figure for January of 2018.

New Zealand shares ended little changed with a positive bias, giving up early gains. A2 Milk shares advanced 1.5 percent after data showed overall manufacturing activity volume in New Zealand climbed 2.0 percent sequentially in the fourth quarter of 2018, led by meat and dairy products.

Another report revealed that total building volume in the country climbed 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, exceeding expectations for an increase of 1.0 percent.

Overnight, U.S. stocks fell notably amid concerns around global growth after the ECB slashed its economic growth forecast, citing external uncertainties.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 dropped around 0.8 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 1.1 percent.

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