Asian shares mostly lower as US-China trade optimism fades

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower yesterday as optimism about progress in trade talks between the United States (US) and China started wearing thin.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.7 per cent in afternoon trading to 21,456.01. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.3 per cent to 6,263.90. South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.5 per cent to 2,165.79. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dipped 0.9 per cent to 28,787.30, while the Shanghai Composite gained 0.1 per cent to 3,106.42.

On Wall Street, health care companies led US stocks broadly lower on Wednesday, giving the market its third straight loss. Technology and energy stocks also bore the brunt of the selling, offsetting gains in materials and utilities companies. Several retailers also rose. Smaller companies fell more than the rest of the market.

The S&P 500 dropped 0.7 per cent to 2,771.45. The benchmark index is now on track for its first weekly decline since January. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.5 per cent to 25,673.46. The Nasdaq composite lost 0.9 per cent to 7,505.92 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up two per cent, to 1,536.82.

Disappointing economic reports, uncertainty over trade and fears of a slowdown in economic growth have been weighing on the market the past couple weeks.

New US economic data on Wednesday did little to encourage investors.

Payroll processor ADP said US businesses added 183,000 jobs in February, below the 188,000 that analysts expected.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said the US trade deficit jumped 19 per cent in December, widening the figure to a decade-long high of USD621 billion.

“Things aren’t going to plan in Trump’s tariff world with US trade data overnight showing the trade deficit blew out to a 10-year high in 2018,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary. “Whether this hardens the President’s attitude to a structural deal with the China trade talks or he chooses a quick win is hard to say,” he added.