China shares tumble, with Shanghai off 2.9%; Nikkei sheds 1%

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Markets in China, Japan and Hong Kong tumbled Monday, with renewed concerns over China's economic fundamentals and the deluge of economic data due this week dragging stocks.

Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a morning note that risk appetite remains "exceptionally weak" as more investors turn to safe-haven assets. "U.S. 10-year bond yields dropping below 1.8 percent and sharp gains in safe-haven Japanese yen and gold prove this point," he said in the note.

On the Chinese mainland, the Shanghai composite pared some losses to close down 79.38 points, or 2.87 percent, at 2,687.82, after earlier trading down as much as 4.63 percent. The Shenzhen composite slid 93.18 points, or 5.36 percent to 1,643.35.

The recovery in China's property market may be driving some of the stock sell-off, Dow Jones reported, saying capital may be fleeing the stock market as interest in home buying increases.

Market watchers were also still ambivalent about the mainland markets.

"The market is very complicated," Chris Choy, chief investment officer at Quam Asset Management, told CNBC's Squawk Box. "The problem I think goes back to the fundamentals. On the China economy, we still have reservations and on the other hand, I think the government still puts in too much to manipulate the market, which can not (allow) the market to reflect true value."

But Choy said he's still interested in selected sectors, such as insurance and technology, which will benefit from growth in middle-class spending.

Some analysts expect rocky trading this week amid a deluge of economic data in the region.

"Markets look set for a volatile week as a raft of data releases globally set markets up for a dramatic reweighting of growth expectations," wrote Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at IG, in his morning note.

The Japanese benchmark index, the Nikkei 225, gave up early gains Monday, closing down 161.65 points, or 1 percent, at 16,026.76, after earlier trading up as much as 1.5 percent. Last week, the index added about 1.39 percent.

Shares of troubled Japanese electronics maker Sharp closed down 2.27 percent. Its shares fell 26 percent between Feb. 23- 26.

Sharp shares fell after its takeover deal from Taiwan's Foxconn, which was announced Thursday, was put on hold. The latter said it would not sign the deal until Sharp clarified previously undisclosed contingent liabilities, reported Reuters. On Monday, Sharp said there was no deadline for finalizing a deal, following a report over the weekend from the Nikkei setting March 7 as the timeline for an agreement.

In the currency market, the yen strengthened against the dollar, falling to the 112 handle, with the pair trading down 1 percent at 112.83 as of 2.25 p.m. HK/SIN. A stronger yen is a negative for Japan's exporters as it hurts earnings when overseas profits are translated back into the home currency. Among exporters, Toyota fell 0.22 percent and Honda shed 0.33 percent.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi closed down 3.5 points, or 0.18 percent, at 1,916.66. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed down 252.22 points, or 1.3 percent, at 19,111.93.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 finished flat at 4,880.90. The heavily-weighted financials sector gave up early gains to trade down 0.35 percent, while the gold sector fell 1.73 percent.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Economic data due this week include Australia's fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) and Chinese factory activity data.

In Asian hours, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures for April delivery traded nearly flat at $32.75 a barrel; U.S. crude futures gained about 3 percent last week.

Global benchmark Brent gained about 0.57 percent to $35.30 a barrel as of 2.22 p.m. HK/SIN time; it added about 6.33 percent last week.

Energy plays were mixed in Asia, with Santos closing up by 2.8 percent, Woodside Petroleum losing 2.35 percent and Inpex lower by 2.09 percent. Chinese mainland energy plays closed mixed, with China Oilfield shedding 2.88 percent and Petrochina adding 0.28 percent.

"Global crude prices are convulsing (albeit at rather low levels) amid 'on-off' hopes of global oil production cuts. This adds yet another layer of volatility," Varathan added in his note.

The Chinese yuan was marginally weaker against the dollar, with the pair up 0.13 percent at 6.5478. The People's Bank of China set Monday's yuan mid-point at 6.5452.

Stateside on Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.34 percent, while the S&P 500 ended lower by 0.19 percent. The Nasdaq composite gained 0.18 percent.

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