Asian shares mostly lower as investors watch trade talks

TOKYO (AP) – Asian shares were mostly lower yesterday after a slide on Wall Street as nervous investors eyed United States (US)-China trade talks in Washington.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.3 per cent to 21,402.57 in morning trading. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.4 per cent to 6,165.00. South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.4 per cent to 2,220.23, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.3 per cent to 28,545.23. The Shanghai Composite was flat at 2,752.62.

Health care and energy companies led US stocks lower. The S&P 500, which has risen for the past three weeks, fell 0.4 per cent to 2,774.88. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also lost 0.4 per cent, to 25,850.63. The Nasdaq composite declined 0.4 per cent to 7,459.71 while the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 0.4 per cent to 1,575.55.

A hodge-podge of recent economic data is fuelling concerns over risks to global growth. The US Labour Department said fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than economists expected, an encouraging sign. But investors are cautious about business conditions going forward as signs of weakness in the global economy emerge. The long-running, costly trade dispute between the US and China has also clouded the outlook.

The world’s two biggest economies are locked in a trade war spurred by US contentions that China uses predatory tactics in a quest to overtake US technological dominance, including pressuring American companies to hand over trade secrets and in some cases stealing them outright.

The Trump administration has warned it will increase its import taxes on USD200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 per cent to 25 per cent if the two sides haven’t reached a resolution by March 2. But Trump in recent days has signalled a willingness to extend the deadline if negotiators are making progress.

“The trade talks do appear to have made some progress, however, but a run of weak data from Japan, Europe and the US yesterday took the wind out of the equity market sails,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.

An investor walks in front of private stock trading boards at a private stock market gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. – AP