Markets in Asia decline as investors turn cautious; China leads losses

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Asian stocks closed lower on Friday, with major markets in the region recording declines as investors sentiment turned cautious after recent gains seen earlier in the week.

The Nikkei 225 declined 0.56 percent, or 128.76 points, to close at 22,694.50 after four straight sessions of gains. Banking stocks and technology slipped while consumer stocks edged higher. Australian stocks were also lower, with the S&P/ASX 200 closing down 0.2 percent at 6,045.20.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi edged down by 0.77 percent to 2,451.58 as automakers, steelmakers and technology dragged the index lower. Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics fell 1.88 percent.

Losses in greater China markets steepened through the session. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 1.76 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN, with all sectors trading lower in the afternoon. Technology stocks fell 3.26 percent by 3:09 p.m. HK/SIN and financials were 1.87 percent lower, with Tencent tumbling 3.49 percent ahead of the the market close.

Mainland stocks finished the day lower by around the same level, with the Shanghai composite down 1.36 percent at 3,067.13 but off its session low. The Shenzhen composite closed down 0.94 percent.

MSCI’s index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan declined 1.31 percent in Asia afternoon trade.

Investors in the region digested Thursday’s sell-off in emerging markets, with Brazil leading declines. The iShares MSCI Brazil ETF (EWZ), a U.S. exchange-traded fund tracking Brazilian stocks, dropped 5.13 percent.

Investors turned to bonds amid concerns over emerging markets. On Friday, the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield last stood at 2.917 percent from around 2.97 percent seen in the Wednesday session.

“While there are no obvious catalysts for an apparent broadening of emerging market (albeit excluding Asia) pressures in recent days, it is valid to speculate that the European Central Bank’s mid-week signalling that the conditions for ending its quantitative easing bond buying program look to have fallen into place, is relevant,” Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank, said in a note.

The ECB’s chief economist said earlier in the week that underlying strength in the euro area was making the central bank confident about inflation moving toward target, adding that the institution would discuss how it will wind down its asset-purchasing program next week.

Apart from the ECB, investors also awaited the Federal Reserve’s next policy meeting, which is due to take place over two days next week.

Trade developments also continued to feature prominently, with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross telling CNBC that a deal had been reached with Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE, which had been crippled after U.S. companies were blocked from selling to it.

The deal will impose a $1 billion penalty on ZTE, which will also need to install a U.S.-chosen compliance team, but is facing some pushback from U.S. lawmakers.

Investors will also turn their attention to the G-7 summit taking place in Canada on Friday and Saturday, with the issues related to protectionism and international trade expected to take center stage.

The move lower in Asia came on the back of the mixed close seen stateside. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.38 percent, or 95.02 points, to close at 25,241.41. Other major U.S. indexes finished the session lower, with the Nasdaq composite declining 0.7 percent and bringing an end to its four-day winning streak.

On the energy front, oil prices pared some overnight gains after advancing in the last session on investor worries about a drop in Venezuelan exports. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slipped 0.58 percent to trade at $65.57 per barrel and Brent crude futures dropped 0.7 percent to trade at $76.80 after settling almost $2 higher on Thursday.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

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