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Asian Equities Decline; China’s NPC, Italy’s Election In Focus

Asian stocks turned negative in afternoon trading – Asian stocks turned negative in afternoon trading on Monday as the trade tariff plans from U.S. president Trump continued to feed concerns across the region, while the uncertain results of Italian elections also weighed in.

Sunday’s Italian elections caught some attention as exit polls indicated that a center-right bloc took a slight lead over the populist 5-Star Movement but neither of the parties was close to the threshold required to form a government.

China was in focus on Monday as this year’s National People’s Congress opened in Beijing today. Premier Li Keqiang said that monetary policies would be “prudent” and “neutral” this year, while CPI and GDP growth are targeted at around 3% and 6.5% respectively. Li also noted that regulation for shadow banking and web finance would be improved, while the highly anticipated Greater Bay Area development plan would be unveiled later this year.

The Caixin services purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to 54.2 in February from last month's 68-month high of 54.7.

The Mainland Chinese markets opened higher but slipped to the negative territory in the afternoon, with the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Component down 0.22% and 0.17% respectively by 1:15am ET.

Japan’s Nikkei slipped 0.7% at the close and recorded four straight sessions of decline, with a strengthening yen being cited as catalyst for the selling in local equities. The safe-haven currency got a lift as risk sentiment soured amid fears of a global trade war. Steel makers and other exports underperformed the region in morning trade.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index extended its morning losses and traded 1.3% lower. Tencent Holdings Ltd (HK:0700) made headlines as the company's CEO Pony Ma said WeChat has 18 million global users and urged the Chinese government to introduce an ID system that would link multiple sets of travel documents with a mobile phone.

Down under, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 closed 0.57% lower. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo was reportedly seeking to push for an Australian exemption to the tariffs on steel and aluminum exports, despite reports over the weekend that suggested Trump had no intention to exclude the countries’ allies from the tariffs. Although not directional drivers, Australia’s monthly building approvals and quarterly company profits data both came in well ahead of forecasts.

Reserve Bank of Australia monetary decision is due on Tuesday, with GDP data due the day after.

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