Asian Stocks Fall After Weak US Data

Asian stocks fell on Thursday in cautious trade as investors grappled with financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

China's Shanghai Composite index rose 0.31 percent to 2,819.94 ahead of GDP, industrial production and retail sales due Friday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended down 0.58 percent at 24,006.45.

Japanese shares fell sharply after the release of weak earnings and economic data from the U.S. that pointed to a severe U.S. economic downturn.

U.S. retail sales plunged by a record 8.7 percent in March compared to the previous month and manufacturing output fell by the most in 74 years, raising fears of a deep recession.

The Nikkei average dropped 259.89 points, or 1.33 percent, to 19,290.20 while the broader Topix index closed 0.82 percent lower at 1,422.24.

Exporters ended broadly lower despite the yen losing some ground amid the shift in risk momentum. Sony lost about 1 percent, Toyota Motor shed 2 percent and Honda Motor tumbled 3.8 percent.

Robot maker Fanuc declined 2.7 percent. FujiFilm Holdings rose 1.2 percent after announcing it is increasing production of its influenza antiviral drug Avigan (favipiravir) for treating patients with Covid-19.

Australian markets fell sharply despite the latest job figures beating forecasts. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 dropped 50.40 points, or 0.92 percent, to 5,416.30 following extension of social distancing measures. The broader All Ordinaries index fell 55.70 points, or 1.01 percent, to 5,467.60.

The big four banks ended down between 1.3 percent and 2.3 percent. Origin Energy, Santos and Woodside Petroleum lost 1-3 percent as crude oil prices hovered near 18-year lows after a record build in U.S. inventories.

Mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto declined 2 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively while smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group shed 1.6 percent. Gold miners Evolution and Norther Star Resources fell around 1 percent.

The jobless rate in Australia came in at a seasonally adjusted 5.2 percent in March up from 5.1 percent in February, but beating forecasts for 5.4 percent.

The Australian economy added 5,900 jobs last month after collecting 26,700 jobs in February. That was far better than forecasts that suggested a loss of 30,000 jobs due to the impact of the Covid-19 virus.

Seoul shares finished marginally lower as headlines surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continued to paint a grim picture. Worldwide coronavirus cases exceeded 2 million while at least 133,354 lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

New Zealand shares bucked the weak regional trend to end higher as a weakening kiwi dollar lifted exporters such as A2 Milk Company and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. The benchmark NZX-50 index rose by 63.25 points, or 0.61 percent, to 10,473.19.

U.S. stocks tumbled overnight as weak earnings results from financial giants Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup as well as dismal retail sales, manufacturing and industrial production data reminded investors of the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 1.9 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 1.4 percent and the S&P 500 declined 2.2 percent. 

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