HONG KONG: Asian markets extended the week’s losses on Friday, following a heavy sell-off in New York and Europe in reaction to another batch of poor Chinese data and flaring tensions in Ukraine.
Traders scurried into lower-risk assets such as the yen owing to growing economic uncertainty and geopolitical fears.
Tokyo slumped 3.30 percent, or 488.32 points, to 14,327.66, Seoul fell 0.75 percent, or 14.48 points, to 1,919.90 and Sydney gave up 1.54 percent, or 83.2 points, to close at 5,329.4.
Shanghai lost 0.73 percent, or 14.77 points, to 2,004.34. In the afternoon Hong Kong was 1.03 percent lower.
Apart from mild bargain-buying gains on Tuesday and Thursday, regional shares have been in a downward spiral this week since China said at the weekend it had seen a surprise trade deficit in February and exports had slumped.
The selling was fanned on Thursday when Beijing released fresh figures showing industrial production rose at its slowest pace in five years in January and February, while consumer spending saw its weakest increase for three years.
With China — a crucial driver of global growth — releasing a series of downbeat economic data, investors are shifting into safer investments, predominantly hitting equities.
The main markets in London, Frankfurt and Paris all suffered heavy losses and Wall Street followed, with the Dow sinking 1.41 percent, the S&P 500 losing 1.17 percent and the Nasdaq 1.46 percent lower.
The U.S. losses came despite unemployment benefits claims tumbling last week to their the lowest level in more than three months, while retail sales saw their first gain in February after two successive declines.
The yen, considered a safe haven, surged against the dollar in New York on Thursday, which in turn hit Japanese shares.
‘Nikkei suffers double-whammy’
“Japan stocks take the first hit on bad Asian news, then when the U.S. markets fall late, they react to that as well, resulting in a ‘double whammy’ effect,” a Tokyo-based hedge fund manager told Dow Jones Newswires.
The dollar was at 101.57 yen Friday, down from 101.85 yen in New York Thursday afternoon and well down from the mid-103 yen level seen at the start of the week.
Adding to the weak sentiment were fears over the Ukraine crisis ahead of a referendum in Crimea on becoming part of Russia, a vote the West has called illegal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in London to defuse the crisis but also to warn Moscow of a serious backlash over the vote as the U.S. and EU prepare sanctions against those blamed for stirring the tensions.
In other currency trade the euro slipped after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi said that the risk of deflation in the eurozone was “quite limited” but that he stood ready to act decisively in case inflation expectations shifted down.
He added that “the longer inflation remains low, the higher the probability of such risks emerging.”
The single currency fetched 140.73 yen against 141.28 yen in US trade and sharply below the 143.30 on Monday.
It also bought $1.3857, compared with $1.3870 in New York. The unit had touched a 29-month high of 1.3967 at one point Thursday.
Oil prices were flat. New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for April delivery, was down three cents at $98.17 and Brent North Sea crude for April slipped 39 cents to $107.00.
Gold fetched $1,369.36 an ounce at 0700 GMT compared with $1,369.33 late Wednesday.
In other markets:
– Taipei fell 0.69 percent, or 60.16 points, to 8,687.63.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. slipped 1.29 percent to Tw$115.0 while Hon Hai was 0.7 percent lower at Tw$85.5.
– Wellington eased 0.64 percent, or 32.66 points, to 5,079.32.
Trade Me was off 1.34 percent at NZ$3.67 and Telecom was steady at NZ$2.45.