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Japan's shares slid even as markets in Australia, South Korea and China gained on Monday as traders digested Friday's better-than-expected U.S. non-farm payroll and China's new economic targets announced at the National People's Congress (NPC) over the weekend.
The Japanese benchmark closed down 103.46 points, or 0.61 percent, at 16,911.32, while the Topix fell 13.45 points, or 0.98 percent, to 1,361.90. Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi finished up 2.24 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,957.87. Hong Kong's closed near flat at 20,159.72 points, after wavering between gains and losses throughout the session.
Chinese markets were higher, with the closing up 24.49 points, or 0.85 percent, at 2,898.64, while the Shenzhen composite added 34.67 points, or 2.03 percent, to 1,741.64.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 closed up 52.78 points, or 1.04 percent, at 5,142.81, boosted by gains in the energy, materials and heavily-weighted financials sectors. The sectors were up 2.2, 3.08 and 1.2 percent, respectively.
Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank, said in his morning note that while the strong non-farm payroll data in the U.S. might suggest another Federal Reserve rate hike, the weak wage data suggests that the Fed will not rush its tightening cycle.
"For now, the focus on Fed push-back of further tightening may be justifiably buying some relief for broader risk markets. But relief is a fleeting driver of trades," he said. "Improved global condition, and critically China's backstop on growth slowdown, are imperative. The NPC provided some guidance, but no immediate panacea."
China's new economic targets for 2016, released on Saturday at the National People's Congress (NPC) meeting, included a revised growth target of between 6.5 and 7 percent, a consumer price index growth target of around 3 percent and a budget deficit at 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Reuters reported.
Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG, said in his morning note that the revised GDP target for 2016 is "almost a 'whatever it takes' comment, and shows China will not take its foot off the growth accelerator."
Qu Hongbin, chief China economist at HSBC, wrote in a morning note that the NPC outcome reflected a "significant expansion" of fiscal policy.
"This will provide greater support to the financing needs of infrastructure projects, which holds the key to [stabilize] growth," Qu said. "We expected infrastructure investment will be become stronger, and there will be more progresses in tax reduction, increased subsidy to migrant workers' property purchase needs and other supply side reforms in 2016."
Chinese infrastructure plays were mixed, with mainland-listed shares of China Communications Construction closing down 1.01 percent, while China Railway Construction and China Railway Group were up 1.01 and 0.88 percent, respectively.
In currency trade, the Australian dollar slipped against the U.S. dollar after touching $0.7443 Friday, its highest highest level for 2016. The pair was trading down 0.46 percent at 0.7406 as of 1:27 p.m. HK/SIN time.
Down Under, miners gained broadly, with Rio Tinto up 3.5 percent, BHP Billiton up 4.98 percent and Fortescue soaring 23.69 percent, following gains in base metal prices. Iron ore was up 0.7 percent at $52.40 a tonne, its highest since October. In his note, Lucas noted that Fortescue, which is up nearly 65 percent year-to-date, is the lowest cost iron-ore producer.
Chinese metal players also finished higher, with Baoshan Steel adding 4.08 percent, Yunnan Copper up by 6.47 percent and Baotou Steel higher by 5.02 percent.
But Goldman Sachs said in a note on Monday that the current rally in iron ore will likely be short-lived "in the absence of a material increase in Chinese steel demand."
The Japanese yen also maintained its strength against the dollar, staying at the 113 handle. The pair traded at 113.69 as of 1:33 p.m. HK/SIN time. Japanese exporters finished mixed, with Toyota down 2.07 percent and Nissan adding 2.19 percent. A stronger yen is usually a negative for exporters as it reduces their overseas profit when converted into local currency.
In China, before market open, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) fixed the yuan mid-point rate at 6.5113, compared with Friday's fix of 6.5284. The pair was up 0.11 percent at 6.5136 in afternoon trade.
In the energy market, U.S. crude futures were up 1.7 percent at $36.53 a barrel as of 3:13 p.m. HK/SIN time, after gaining 9.5 percent last week. Globally traded Brent futures were up 1.37 percent at $39.25 a barrel, after gaining 10.31 percent the previous week.
Energy plays across the region were mixed, with Santos adding 1.54 percent and Woodside Petroleum up 2.44 percent. Japanese oil plays Japan Petroleum, Inpex and Fuji Oil closed down between 0.75 and 2.14 percent. Chinese mainland energy plays were mixed, with Sinopec adding 2.99 percent and Petrochina down 0.38 percent.
The U.S. non-farm payroll number released Friday showed the U.S. economy added a better-than-expected 242,000 jobs in February, mitigating some concerns that the economy was joining a global economic slowdown. Economists had expected 190,000 new positions.
On Friday, major U.S. indexes closed up, with the up 0.37 percent, the S&P 500 adding 0.33 percent and the gaining 0.2 percent.
— Jeff Cox contributed to this report.
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