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Asian stocks put up a mixed performance on Monday, as traders digested a slew of Chinese data released over the weekend and tread cautiously ahead of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting this week.
Growth in China's fixed-asset investment and industrial production missed expectations in August, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Sunday, suggesting further cooling in the world's second-biggest economy that will likely prompt the government to roll out more support measures.
Retail sales were the lone positive surprise, growing 10.8 percent in August from a year earlier, above forecasts of 10.5 percent.
"Further deceleration in investments and imports plunge remain worrying. This ups the likelihood of more China stimulus, but dampens the Fed jumping the gun," analysts at Mizuho Bank wrote in an e-mail note released early Monday.
"We expect the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) [to] signal an initial a measured tightening soon, but hold off a [September] rate hike, line with IMF and World Bank's reservations," the note added.
The World Bank's chief economist joined Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, in warning that a rate rise could trigger " " in emerging markets, according to a report by the Financial Times last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Wall Street finished higher last Friday, with the S&P 500 closing up 0.45 percent to post its biggest weekly gain since July. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.63 and 0.54 percent respectively.
Mainland indices down
After bouts of volatility in the afternoon trading session, China's Shanghai Composite index closed down 2.7 percent at its lowest level since September 8.
Fresh concerns over the state of the world's second-biggest economy may have eclipsed news that Beijing issued guidance on state-owned enterprises (SOEs) reforms, including the introduction of "mixed ownership" of state firms, according to a report by state media Xinhua on Sunday.
Earlier last Friday, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) revised the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) rules for banks, allowing flexibility in the level of money they set aside as reserves with the central bank.
"Chinese data out over the weekend provided a familiar view of its divergent two-speed economy... It is thought that factory shutdowns surrounding the World Athletics Championship and WWII commemoration may have affected output somewhat. Nonetheless, the data is still pretty disappointing considering there have been frequent statements by the government, plus expectations in the market that investment would start to pick up in the second half of the year," IG's market analyst Angus Nicholson wrote in a note.
Among other major indexes in the country, the CSI300 Index closed down 2 percent, while the Shenzhen Composite retreated 6.7 percent to a near one-week low.
Nikkei tanks 1.6%
Japan's Nikkei 225 index turned significantly lower, taking its cues from a slide in Chinese shares and as telecommunication shares plunged.
Heavyweight component SoftBank tumbled 5.5 percent, while other telecommunications operators such as NTT Docomo and KDDI lost 6.5 and 8.6 percent respectively after local media reports said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has instructed the communication ministry to lower mobile phone fees.
Inpex and Fuji Oil declined 5 and 3.3 percent respectively, dented by weaker oil prices last week.
Toshiba reported on Monday an April-June operating loss of 10.96 billion yen ($91 million) compared with a 47.7 billion yen profit a year earlier. Shares of the troubled conglomerate closed down 2.1 percent.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) kickstarts its two-day policy meeting. Analysts are expecting the central bank to maintain its expansionary monetary policy, though signs of persisting weakness in the economy are driving some market speculation for further easing.
ASX gains 0.5%
Australia's index outperformed the region on Monday, thanks to hefty buy orders for financials, utilities and healthcare stocks.
Investment bank Macquarie Group jumped 2.3 percent, lifted by an announcement that it expects a 40 percent jump in profit for the first-half ending September.
National Australia Bank and Westpac climbed more than 1 percent each, while Australia and New Zealand Banking rose 0.9 percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.8 percent, following news that the lender has raised A$5.1 billion ($3.6 billion) through a rights issue after completing a retail bookbuild.
Energy plays reversed early losses; Oil Search edged up 0.5 percent following news that it rejected an $8 billion takeover proposal from Woodside Petroleum. Meanwhile, shares of the latter pared losses to end flat.
Kospi drops 0.5%
South Korea's Kospi index erased early gains to finish in negative territory, as investors stayed on the sidelines.
Technology names and brokerage houses were among the hardest-hit; LG Electronics and LG Display closed down 3.5 and 2.4 percent respectively, while Daewoo Securities led losses in the sector with a 4 percent decline.
Index heavyweight Hyundai Motor also receded 1 percent.
Rest of Asia
Singapore's Straits Times index kicked off the week on the back foot, tracking the downbeat sentiment across the region as investors awaited clarity on the Fed's monetary policy.
Among top laggards, commodities trader Noble Group slumped nearly 6 percent to hover near its lowest level in three weeks.
Singapore shares were down over 0.5 percent at the close, following a long weekend which saw voters in the Southeast Asian city-state giving the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) a strong mandate. The PAP, which ruled Singapore since independence in 1965, brushed off opposition challenge to win a decisive victory in the country's general election.
"A convincing win by the incumbent party should boost market sentiment, but it will be a fairly temporary effect because we have the Fed's policy meeting coming up and markets remain very divided about what the Fed is going to do," Selena Ling, head of Treasury Research and Strategy at OCBC Bank, told CNBC.
"One thing to keep an eye on is whether the key economic posts will have any reshuffles. It's probably quite certain that Economic Minister Tharman [Shanmugaratnam] will likely stay put so it's the other posts that will be of interest, [for example] the transport minister," Ling added.
Meanwhile in Malaysia, scandal-hit Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Monday that ValueCap — a government equity investment firm — would be given 20 billion ringgit ($4.6 billion) to shore up the country's stock market.
He also announced other measures to support a slowing economy, such as having the factory sector exempted from import duties until the economy recovers. Malaysian shares closed 2.25 percent higher.
Indian shares edged up in early trade despite data showed that the country's wholesale prices fell for a tenth straight month in August. The benchmark BSE index ended the day 0.96 percent higher to record its highest close since August 31. The wholesale price index (WPI) fell 4.95 percent on-year, compared with a 4.40 percent decline forecast by Reuters' economists and a 4.05 percent plunge in July.