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Asian stocks kicked off a brand new trading week on the back foot, as trading sentiment took a hit from concerns over Greece's torturous debt repayment talks and fresh tightening of margin financing in China.
After talks aimed at reaching a deal between Greece and its creditors over the weekend, comments by Yanis Varoufakis, the embattled Greek finance minister, emerged early Monday, in which he claimed it would be possible to reach an agreement "in one night" but German chancellor Angela Merkel "must take part."
According to Reuters, Varoufakis told German newspaper Bild that a 'Grexit' was not a sensible solution, adding that debt restructuring was "the only way possible for Greece" and that it would need no further aid if it was able to do so.
Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said there would be turmoil in financial markets if Greece defaulted on its next debt repayment. "I think there are increasing signs that this may not work out and so the risks have increased that if Greece doesn't come to a deal by end June, it may be forced to default on its International Monetary Fund (IMF) payment and if that happens, it could create a lot of turbulence in global financial markets and raises question marks about what happens next," he said.
Investors were also cautious ahead of this week's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, which could shed some light on the timing of a widely-anticipated increase in interest rates.
U.S. shares handed over an unimpressive lead by finishing lower on Friday. The blue-chip Dow and the S&P 500 closed down 0.78 and 0.7 percent, respectively, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq settled 0.62 percent lower.
Mainland markets fall
China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index widened losses to close down 2 percent after the country's securities regulators published rules late Friday that would limit the size of the country's margin trading and short selling by law for the first time.
Also weighing on risk appetite was a raft of new share listings due in Shanghai at the end of this week.
"Traders are selling out of positions to take part in the 25 initial public offerings (IPOs) coming to market. Talk is we could see over $1 trillion rotating out of the market to pay for what is effectively seen as free money for Chinese institutional traders," IG's chief market strategist Chris Weston wrote in a note. "The regulator (the CSRC) has also banned all margin financing, leverage and collateral arrangements which is big news... Chinese equities could be vulnerable in the short-term."
Meanwhile, the blue-chip CSI 300 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite index declined 2.1 percent each.
In Hong Kong, Lenovo Group plunged 1.9 percent as its biggest shareholder, Legend Holdings, prepares to launch its initial public offering today.
Kospi loses 0.5%
South Korean shares ended at their lowest levels since April 3 on the first implementation day of a new policy which sees the benchmark Kospi index's daily trading range doubled to 30 percent.
Tourism and retail-related plays continued to come under selling pressure amid the country's outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines slumped 6.1 and 5.7 percent, respectively, while hotel and duty-free shop operator Hotel Shilla and Hanatour Service closed down more than 4 percent each.
Cheil Industries tumbled 7.1 percent to a near three-week low due to uncertainty over whether its $8 billion all-stock takeover bid for Samsung C&T Corp will succeed. Shares of the latter closed down 2.3 percent.
On the domestic data front, South Korea's exports in May fell 10.9 percent from a year earlier while imports declined 15.4 percent, according to revised customs agency data. Meanwhile, the finance ministry said Monday that the government will maintain an expansionary fiscal policy until the country's economy recovers.
Export-oriented plays were mixed, with blue-chip Toshiba and Sony ended up 1.7 and 0.8 percent, respectively, while Nissan, Honda Motor and Suzuki Motor lost 0.6 percent each. Honda Motor said it would restate its financial results for the last business year to account for about $360 million in additional costs related to an expanded recall.
Among the most actively-traded stocks, Softbank recouped early losses to bounce up 1.5 percent, while banking counters such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group pared gains to end flat.
ASX sags 0.1%
Australia's S&P ASX 200 index recovered from early losses to end with marginal losses.
Specific stocks were in focus on Monday; Arrium slumped 6.3 percent after forecasting a sharp drop in future iron ore production and said it will take a further A$320 million impairment charge this year.
Outperforming the bourse, grocery wholesaler Metcash elevated 2.3 percent on news that it will be selling its automotive division for $275 million.
Indian indices up
Markets in India bucked the downtrend in Asia, with the S&P BSE Sensex and the 50-share Nifty index drifting modestly higher, following the release of key economic indicators.
The wholesale price index (WPI) fell at a slower-than-expected annual rate of 2.36 percent in May, according to government data released on Monday, compared with a 2.65 percent decline in the preceding month.