HONG KONG: Asian traders took a step back on Friday after a rally across global markets this week, as China released data showing the world’s number-two economy grew at its slowest rate in seven years during the first quarter.
Japanese investors were also cautious as they assess the impact of a powerful 6.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the country overnight, killing least nine people and forcing the closure of the factories of several major manufacturers.
Shares around the world have piled higher this week as a string of upbeat data from China and a surge in oil prices fuelled hopes for the global economy.
But investors decided to take their cash off the table Friday, sending most markets lower.
Hong Kong closed 0.1 percent lower and Shanghai ended down 0.1 percent while Seoul slipped 0.1 percent. But Sydney added 0.8 percent.
Tokyo gave up 0.4 percent, with big-name firms including Sony, Toyota and Honda among the key losers. Sony dived 3.2 percent and Honda one percent.
“It’s possible that there may be effects on individual companies through the supply chains,” Juichi Wako, a senior strategist at Nomura Holdings, told Bloomberg News.
However, the losses around the region were limited, while China released another batch of positive economic readings.
Beijing said the Chinese economy, a crucial driver of global growth, expanded 6.7 percent in January-March, the weakest quarterly result since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, but in line with expectations.
The government also released forecast-beating investment, sales and industrial output figures for last month that reinforced hopes a growth slowdown in the economy may be bottoming out.
Analysts said the data indicated that some sense of stabilization had finally set in following a series of stimulus measures.
World markets were sent into spasms at the end of last year and the start of 2016 by worries over the state of the Chinese economy and Beijing’s handling of the crisis.
But Morgan Stanley economist Sun Junwei wrote in a report ahead of the data release:
“We continue to expect a cyclical improvement as past stimulus measures are still filtering through to the economy.”
Zhang Haidong, chief strategist at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai, said the tepid market reaction to the news was expected.