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Asian markets mostly down, weak China data

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Asian markets were mostly lower on Friday as traders took a breather after healthy gains in the previous session while Chinese data showed growth in manufacturing activity had slowed.

Wall Street provided a meek lead, with the Dow ending lower after flirting with a record high as investors appeared to take in their stride looming deep US budget cuts due to take effect later in the day.

Tokyo stocks closed 0.41 percent, or 47.02 points, higher at 11,606.38, as a weak yen helped the market recoup early losses sparked by profit-taking, and after the naming of a new Bank of Japan chief known to favour aggressive monetary easing.

Sydney slid 0.35 percent, or 17.98 points, to end the week at 5,086.1, while in afternoon trade Hong Kong fell 0.42 percent and Shanghai was 0.62 percent lower. Seoul was closed for a holiday

China's official purchasing managers' index (PMI) showed activity in the crucial manufacturing sector eased to 50.1 last month from 50.4 in January. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

The figures follow HSBC's preliminary data earlier this week of 50.4, down from 52.3 in January, and suggest the recent pick-up in the world's number two economy is weaker than initially thought.

British bank HSBC said later Friday that its final PMI for February came in at 50.4, a four-month low but also the fourth consecutive month of expansion after 12 months of contraction.

Zhang Liqun, a government analyst, said the figures showed a rebound in the economy was likely to lose steam, adding: "The February PMI extended a trend seen in January to decline modestly, indicating a rebound in economic growth will come to a stabilising point."

Shares in the United States ended lower, with the Dow seeing a late sell-off after moving within a few points of its record high seen just before the onset of the global financial crisis.

Traders were left unimpressed by a revision of fourth-quarter US economic growth, which came in at a lower-than-forecast 0.1 percent, although it was better than the 0.1 percent contraction previously estimated.

There seemed to be little reaction to the fact that the government was poised to start slashing spending Friday as the $85 billion in federal cuts known as the "sequester" comes in, which economists say will trim growth.

The Dow ended 0.15 percent lower, while the S&P 500 lost 0.09 percent and the Nasdaq edged down 0.07 percent.

Currency markets were quiet in early trade after a volatile week, which saw the dollar and euro surge against the yen before tumbling in reaction to Italian elections that renewed concerns about the eurozone.

In Tokyo the dollar bought 92.52 yen, compared with 92.58 yen in New York Thursday afternoon. The euro fetched 121.00 yen and $1.3077 compared with 120.95 yen and $1.3062.

Oil prices eased, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, shedding 12 cents to $91.93 a barrel in the afternoon and Brent North Sea crude for April delivery sliding 33 cents to $111.05.

Gold was at $1,580.04 at 0615 GMT compared with $1,591.00 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Wellington edged down 0.05 percent, or 2.02 points, to 4,317.99.

Telecom Corp was down 2.07 percent at NZ$2.37, Air New Zealand up 1.07 percent at NZ$1.415 and Chorus steady on NZ$2.90.

-- Taipei rose 66.65 points, or 0.84 percent, to 7,964.63.

HTC rose 1.08 percent t0 Tw$280.0 while TSMC was 0.48 percent higher at Tw$104.5.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130301/asian-markets-mostly-down-weak-china-data