A woman walks past an electronic board showing Hong Kong share index outside a local bank in Hong Kong, Friday, March 8, 2019. Asian markets tumbled Friday on fears that the U.S. and China may not be as close to a trade deal as President Donald Trump hopes. Selling was also fueled by worries about the global economy ahead of Chinese trade data.(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Asian shares tumble on poor Chinese trade data

March 08, 2019 - 1:13 am

SINGAPORE (AP) — Shares tumbled Friday in Asia, led by sharp declines in Shanghai and Hong Kong, after China reported its exports plunged more than 20 percent in February from a year earlier.

Selling also was fueled by worries that the U.S. and China may not be as close to a trade deal as President Donald Trump has suggested.

The Shanghai Composite index dived 4.4 percent to 2,969.86 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 1.7 percent to 28,296.46. The People's Insurance Company (Group) of China Ltd. plunged 10 percent in early trading, its daily limit.

South Korea's Kospi fell 1.3 percent to 2,137.44 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 eased 1 percent to 6,203.80.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 sank 2 percent to 21,025.56, even after the government said its economy grew 1.9 percent in 2018's fourth quarter, from a year ago. This was better than the initial estimate of 1.4 percent. Stocks fell in Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia.

China's exports fell by 20.7 percent in February from a year earlier, customs data showed Friday. This was far worse than the expected 4.8 decline. The country's imports missed the mark too, dropping 5.2 percent in February, as compared to a 1.5 percent easing in the previous month.

While the Lunar New Year holidays may have contributed to the fall, the latest trade data was taken as a sign that the Chinese economy was slowing down.

The Chinese data fueled worries about the softening global economy. On Thursday, the European Central Bank delayed its next interest rate hike and announced a new round of cheap loans for banks. This was seen as an acknowledgement of weaker growth by the bank.

"The series of aggravating factors for growth concerns continues to gather... setting Asia markets up for a synchronized decline into the end of the week," Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary.

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that the U.S. and China have reached a broad agreement on removing some tariffs in both countries. This involves China buying more American goods and opening some of its markets further to foreign companies, it said.

But the report said negotiators haven't locked down key details, like when the tariffs will be removed and how to ensure China holds up its end of the deal. It added, citing two people familiar with Beijing's position, that Chinese officials were wary about the final terms due to Trump's proclivity for last minute-changes.

Trump told reporters Wednesday that the negotiations were "moving along very nicely." Last week, the U.S. shelved a tariff hike on $200 billion in Chinese goods to give officials time to work out a deal.

Overnight on Wall Street, the broad S&P 500 index suffered its fourth straight loss on Thursday, falling 0.8 percent to 2,748.93. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.8 percent to 25,473.23 and the Nasdaq composite shed 1.1 percent to 7,421.46. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks dipped 0.9 percent to 1,523.63.

ENERGY: U.S. crude lost 44 cents to $56.22 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It picked up 44 cents to $56.66 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils fell 60 cents to $65.70 a barrel in London. The contract rose 31 cents to settle at $66.30 per barrel on Thursday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 111.00 yen from 111.57 yen late Thursday. The euro advanced to $1.1203 from $1.1194.

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