Asian markets were mixed Wednesday, with China shares dropping, as analysts pointed to renewed investor concerns over the mainland's economy following lower-than-expected trade data for February.
The ended down 39.26 points, or 1.35 percent, at 2,862.12, while the Shenzhen composite fell 37.09 points, or 2.11 percent, to 1,713.44.
Elsewhere, the Japanese benchmark finished down 140.95 points, or 0.84 percent, at 16,642.20; South Korea's Kospi ended higher by 6.83 points, or 0.35 percent, at 1,952.95, after wavering between gains and losses. Hong Kong's closed nearly flat at 19,996.26.
Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 also gained, closing up 49.23 points, or 0.96 percent, at 5,157.20, buoyed by the financials sector, which was up 1.55 percent.
"Consolidation and reflection seems to be the name of the game after a strong run in commodities and equities," wrote IG's chief market strategist, Chris Weston, in an afternoon note. Weston said he saw "clear concern" from clients over "whether it is time to increase bearish positioning again."
One factor adding to investor concerns is China's weaker-than-expected trade data.
Rodrigo Catril, a currency strategist at the National Australia Bank, said in a note, "renewed concerns over China's economic outlook following [Tuesday's] softer than expected trade numbers halted a five-day equity rally and triggered a bid for safe haven assets."
China's February trade data showed exports fell 25.4 percent on-year and imports declined 13.8 percent, clocking far bigger slides than expected by analysts.
Catril added subsequent market reactions to the trade numbers suggest investors remain concerned over "the apparent soft demand for China's exports." He said it is still a little too early to draw any big conclusions, but noted March trade figures will be very important.
Among safe-haven assets, the Japanese yen maintained its strength against the dollar at the 112 handle, off levels above 113 touched Tuesday. The dollar/yen pair traded at 112.56 as of 2:20 p.m. HK/SIN time.
Major exporters in Japan finished mostly down, with Toyota losing 0.23 percent, Nissan off by 1.28 percent and Honda lower by 0.96 percent. Electronics maker Sony, however, finished up 2.43 percent. A stronger yen is usually a negative for exporters as it affects their overseas profits when converted into the local currency.
In corporate news, Japan's Nikkei newspaper reported that Canon is a front-runner to buy Toshiba's healthcare business, with a bid of over 700 billion yen ($6.21 billion). Toshiba is undergoing a restructuring following an accounting scandal in 2015. Other bidders for Toshiba's healthcare business include Fujifilm, as well as a coalition of Konica Minolta and European private equity fund Permira, reported the Nikkei.
Shares of Toshiba were down 2.26 percent, while Canon shares reversed losses to close up 0.88 percent.
Resources producers across the region were lower on Wednesday, following overnight drops in base metal prices.
Mining stocks in Australia ended mixed, with major players Rio Tinto down 2.12 percent, BHP Billiton lower by 1.92 percent and Fortescue falling 2.87 percent. Shares of South32 closed up 4.93 percent.
Chinese metal plays were also sharply lower. Shares of Shandong Jinling Mining closed down 8.04 percent, Yunnan Copper slipped 7.62 percent and Nanjing Steel was lower by 5.05 percent.
Gold, another safe-haven asset, gave up early gains, with falling 0.14 percent to $1,259 an ounce, as of 3:58 p.m. HK/SIN time. Gold miners in Australia saw their shares slide, with Newcrest lower by 2.91 percent and Alacer Gold losing 2.88 percent.
Oil prices reversed course in the afternoon session during Asian hours, with the global benchmark Brent up by 0.28 percent at $39.76 a barrel, after settling down 2.9 percent during U.S hours. U.S. crude futures were up 0.27 percent at $36.60, after falling 3.7 percent overnight.
Oil plays in the region were sharply lower, with Santos down 2.57 percent, Woodside Petroleum falling 2.68 percent, Inpex lower by 2.61 percent and Japan Petroleum losing 0.58 percent. Chinese mainland energy plays were sharply lower, with Sinopec dropping 7.58 percent and China Oilfield declining 3.75 percent.
Major U.S. indexes closed lower, with the off 0.64 percent, the S&P 500 slipping 1.12 percent and the ending down 1.26 percent.