It's been punch after punch, and now Asia caves in: Taking stock

HONG KONG (Bloomberg): First it was China. Then the U.S. And finally Europe.

For Asian stock investors, this week’s cuts in economic-growth forecasts and disappointing data finally took their toll on Friday, sending the MSCI Asia Pacific Index toward its biggest plunge of the year and a second weekly decline. Losses only accelerated after a report showed Chinese trade slumped in February, with the nation’s equities leading the declines.

Here’s a recap of why things are suddenly looking so bad:

  • China lowered its goal for the economic expansion to a range of 6% to 6.5% for 2019.
  • The U.S. trade deficit widened in 2018 to a 10-year high, and private companies added fewer employees than analysts forecast in February. Watch out for the monthly jobs report later Friday.
  • The European Central Bank cut its euro-area growth forecast to 1.1% this year from 1.7% just three months ago and announced a fresh round of monetary stimulus.
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development lowered the global growth outlook, saying worse may be ahead.

It looks like the trade-talk euphoria that’s driven a rally across Asia through the first two months of this year has been placed on the back burner, at least for now.

For Chinese shares, which are back in a bull market, the awakening is particularly tough. The Shanghai Composite Index lost as much as 3.2% on Friday, heading for its biggest slump since October, while the CSI 300 Index is on track for its first weekly decline of the year. The February exports data only made things worse as mainland shares were already in the red after traders took a rare sell rating from the nation’s largest brokerage as a sign that the government wants to slow down the rally.

To be fair, Asia stocks have come a long way already, still up 10% from a December low. A U.S.-China trade deal could be just the shot in the arm the global economy needs, and while China did trim its growth forecast, an economic expansion of 6% to 6.5% is still nothing to sneeze at.

"The price action we’re seeing today, in part it’s because there’s a bit of indigestion because the market has actually gone up very sharply,” Min Lan Tan, head of the chief investment office for Asia Pacific with UBS Group AG’s wealth-management unit, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "There is a pause in the market momentum. It per se is not a suggestion this is the start of a downturn in the market, in my view.”

Stock-Market Summary

  • MSCI Asia Pacific Index down 1.3%
  • Japan’s Topix index down 1.8%; Nikkei 225 down 2%
  • Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index down 1.4%; Hang Seng China Enterprises down 1.9%; Shanghai Composite down 2.8%; CSI 300 down 2.7%
  • Taiwan’s Taiex index down 0.6%
  • South Korea’s Kospi index down 1%; Kospi 200 down 1.1%
  • Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 down 0.9%; New Zealand’s S&P/NZX 50 little changed
  • India’s S&P BSE Sensex Index down 0.2%; NSE Nifty 50 down 0.3%
  • Singapore’s Straits Times Index down 0.7%; malaysia’s KLCI down 0.2%; Philippine Stock Exchange Index down 0.4%; Jakarta Composite down 0.8%; Thailand’s SET up 0.1%; Vietnam’s VN Index down 0.8%
  • S&P 500 e-mini futures down 0.2% after index closed down 0.8% in last session


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