Asian stock markets saw choppy trade on Wednesday as the keenly-anticipated reading on China's economy showed first-quarter growth at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis.
Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 7 percent in the three months to March from the year ago period, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, in line with the forecast in a Reuters poll and the 7.3 percent print in the previous quarter.
Scheduled for release alongside the GDP data are figures for factory output, fixed asset investment and retail sales for March - all of which came in below market consensus, underlining the urgency for Beijing to do more to curb the marked slowdown.
Overnight, U.S. stocks ended mixed as investors reacted to the first of the major earnings reports, which topped modest expectations following worries about a stronger U.S. dollar. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 closed up 0.3 and 0.2 percent each, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq shed 0.2 percent.
Mainland markets volatile
Chinese shares wavered between gains and losses after the data release and eventually closed down 1.3 percent. Intra-day swings were huge; the Shanghai Composite index climbed as high as a new 7-year high of 4,175 points and stumbled as low as 4,069 points.
Banking shares were among the most active; Agricultural Bank of China rose 0.8 percent, while Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Bank of Communications made gains of 3 and 2.3 percent. Property developers, however, raked in steep declines; China Vanke and Poly Real Estate plummeted 1.6 and 2.7 percent, respectively.
The benchmark index has been on an uptrend for the past six weeks, with hopes of further stimulus buoying sentiment driving the "bad news is good news" stance to full effect, analysts say. "As a result, it didn't take long for Chinese equities to unwind some of the gains we've been seeing recently. With Hong Kong and Shanghai turning negative on the back of the data, it's clear stimulus speculation has spurred equities to outperform economic reality over there," IG's market strategist Stan Shamu wrote in a note.
In Hong Kong where a blistering rally occurred ever since markets reopened post-Easter, the key Hang Seng index rebounded 0.2 percent at the close, edging back to Monday's 7-year closing high of 28,016 points.
Among gainers, Alibaba Health Information Technology rocketed nearly 90 percent to its highest level since March 2000 after Alibaba Group said it would inject its online pharmacy business into the healthcare unit. The H-shares of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ralled 3.6 percent, while oil-related counters like China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Sinopec charged up 3.4 and 2.6 percent each.
Blue-chip perennials remained unfavored by mainland investors who have sent Hong Kong shares skyrocketing over the past 9 sessions. CK Hutchison Holdings and Swire Pacific shed 1.7 and 0.6 percent each.
Nikkei sheds 0.2%
Japan's Nikkei 225 index edged down on Tuesday, pulling away further from the 20,000-point psychologically-important level, which it pushed through for the first time in 15 years end of last week.
Recent gainers continued to be the target of profit-taking; Meiji Holdings extended losses to fall 3.5 percent Tuesday, while drugmaker Shionogi & Co settled 2.7 percent lower.
Firms with exposure to the mainland were in focus following the GDP print; industrial robot maker Fanuc ticked up 0.3 percent, while Fast Retailing and construction machinery maker Komatsu eased 1.2 and 1.9 percent each.
ASX falls 0.6%
Australia's S&P ASX 200 index finished at a one-week low, reversing a higher open, as worries about slowing growth momentum in the world's second-biggest economy offset the rebound in mining plays.
Westpac led losses with a 1.6 percent decline, while Australia and New Zealand Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank retreated between 1 to 1.5 percent. Retailers were also on the backfoot; JB Hi-Fi and Myer lost over 2 percent each.
The resources sector fared better on Tuesday. After an extensive sell-off in the past few sessions, major iron ore producers rebounded as prices of the commodity found some reprieve. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rose 1.3 and 1.6 percent, respectively, while Fortescue Metals climbed 1.1 percent. Woodside Petroleum and Santos closed up 0.4 percent each.
Kospi adds 0.4%
South Korea's benchmark Kospi index closed up 0.4 percent to chalk up a four-day winning streak, claiming further grounds above the 2,100-point level after crossing the landmark for the first time in nearly four years on Tuesday. Soft data from the mainland - South Korea's largest trading partner - did not have much immediate impact.
Grand Korea Leisure surged 3.1 percent following media reports that the state-run casino operator is close to signing an agreement with U.S.-based Mohegan to build a 1 trillion won casino resort. Posco firmed up 0.6 percent after Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway said it still owns "a considerable amount" of the steelmaker's shares.
Asiana Airlines is in focus after one of its plane skidded off a runway while landing in western Japan and about 20 passengers received minor injuries. Shares of the carrier slumped 4 percent.
Meanwhile, markets in Thailand remain closed for the annual Songkran Festival.
— CNBC's Li Anne Wong contributed to this report