TOKYO/SINGAPORE - Asian stocks fell on Thursday after soft Chinese economic data showed the trade war between Beijing and Washington hitting growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, which had drifted in to positive territory in morning trade, turned negative to trade 0.4% lower.
Japan’s Nikkei stock index dropped 0.6%, while Shanghai blue chips turned from positive to flat and Australia’s S&P/ASX200 index wiped some of its gains to trade less than 0.5% higher by mid-afternoon in Sydney.
China’s industrial production growth slowed sharply in October, rising 4.7% year-on-year, official data showed, missing forecasts of 5.4%, while retail sales also slowed to fall short of expectations and investment growth hit a record low.
“The weakness in investment and production would suggest that confidence is down and trade is probably a big factor within that,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital in Sydney.
“What it does do is it puts more pressure on Chinese authorities to come to a deal with (U.S. President) Donald Trump on trade, just as President Trump’s desire to be re-elected puts pressure on him to come to a deal with the Chinese,” Oliver said.
However, the weak figures also landed as the latest round of markets optimism for such a resolution has begun to run dry.
Trump offered no update on the progress of negotiations in a policy speech on Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that talks had snagged on-farm purchases.
Meanwhile, the global fallout from the dispute is widening.
Japan’s economic growth hit its slowest pace in a year in the third quarter as soft demand knocked exports.
“Looking around the region, you’ve had some near misses of recession - Korea’s been one, Singapore’s also been one and you’ve got Hong Kong in a recession at the moment,” said Sean Darby, global equity strategist at Jeffries in Hong Kong.
“So it’s not great. It’s not a cycle that is not leaving any scars,” he said.
Worries about spiraling violence as anti-government protests intensify in Hong Kong have also soured investor sentiment.
Protesters paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for a fourth day on Thursday, forcing school closures and blocking highways and other transport links in a marked escalation of unrest in the financial hub.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell almost another percentage point on Thursday to a fresh one-month low. Safe havens such as the Japanese yen, Swiss franc and gold held on to gains.
US stock futures fell 0.1% in Asia on Thursday after the S&P 500 eked out a 0.07% gain on Wednesday and closed at a record high, helped by a surge in Walt Disney Co shares.
US stocks have climbed to record levels recently, fueled by interest rate cuts, positive earnings, and signs the economy is bottoming out, but doubts about progress in trade talks remain a huge risk to financial markets and global growth.
A new Reuters poll showed most economists do not expect Washington and Beijing to reach a permanent trade truce over the coming year.
In currency markets, the yen was quoted at 108.73 per dollar, close to a one-week high. The Swiss franc traded at 0.9901 versus the greenback, near the highest in more than a week.
The Australian dollar skidded to a one-month low on Thursday after a worryingly weak reading on employment re-ignited speculation about another cut in interest rates.
US crude rose 0.4% to $57.32 a barrel after a fall in stockpiles added to positive comments by the US Federal Reserve head on the U.S. economy.
The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes fell slightly to 1.8774%.