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Asia markets mixed after China Q1 GDP as expected

Asia markets closed mixed in the final trading day of the week, amid a muted reaction to China's gross domestic product (GDP) numbers for the first quarter, which matched forecasts.

Australia's ASX 200 finished up 38.86 points, or 0.76 percent, at 5,157.48, after the energy and materials subindexes reversed losses of nearly 1 percent in early trade. The heavily-weighted financials subindex closed up 0.54 percent. For the week, the main index advanced 4.45 percent.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 snapped a three-session winning streak on the back of a relatively weaker yen. The benchmark index closed down 63.02 points, or 0.37 percent, at 16,848.03. Japanese stocks mostly ignored an earthquake that struck southwestern Japan on Thursday. The index added 6.4 percent for the week.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi closed down 1.22 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,014.71. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index finished down 21.34 points, or 0.1 percent, at 21,316.47.

Chinese markets ended lower, with the Shanghai composite closing down 3.90 points, or 0.13 percent, at 3,078.45. The Shenzhen composite ended down 3.86 points, or 0.2 percent, at 1,978.58.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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At mid-morning local time, China's National Bureau of Statistics released the country's first quarter GDP numbers for 2016, which showed the economy expanded by 6.7 percent on-year, in line with forecasts that growth has moderately eased. For the December quarter, the reading was at 6.8 percent.

Analysts said the data showed China's economy was stabilizing, but there is still work ahead for the government.

Jing Ulrich, managing director and vice chairman for Asia Pacific at JPMorgan Chase, told CNBC's "Street Signs," "You're seeing the economy recovering from the lows that we saw in December and January of last year."

"That shows the government measures, which they introduced in recent months, are beginning to have an effect," she added.

Ulrich also said there has been "pretty resilient recovery" in consumption and fixed-asset investment, adding the "only weak spot is exports and imports."

Chinese data showed total value of imports and exports in the first quarter of 2016 declined 5.9 percent on-year. Ulrich said it is a reflection of "the weaker global economy and weaker demand for Chinese exports," adding Beijing needs to focus on its domestic economy.

Some took a more pessimistic view of the data.

Tom Rafferty, Asia economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit, said the numbers represent "only temporary respite for the economy."

A Chinese day trader watches a stock ticker at a local brokerage house in Beijing, China.
Getty Images
A Chinese day trader watches a stock ticker at a local brokerage house in Beijing, China.

"Today's released data ought not to distract from the fact that the structural issues facing China's economy remain unresolved," Rafferty said in a media statement. "It has taken considerable monetary and fiscal policy loosening to stabilize economic growth at this level and this effort has distracted from the reform agenda that is fundamental to long-term economic sustainability."

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was sharply higher after the Chinese data release; the Aussie climbed as high as $0.7734 from around $0.7686 before the numbers. As of 3:14 p.m. HK/SIN time, the currency traded at $0.7709. China is a big market for Australian exports, and the Aussie tends to move in tandem with Chinese data.

The Japanese yen held fairly steady against the dollar, with the pair trading at 109.35 in the afternoon local time.

Stephen Innes, a senior foreign exchange trader at OANDA, said in a note that the market has "paused for thought," with heightened fears for an intervention from the Bank of Japan after the yen's recent climb.

Major Japanese exporters were mixed, with shares of automakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda closing down between 1.01 and 2.16 percent, likely due to profit taking. Shares of Toshiba advanced 0.31 percent.

The Chinese yuan traded at 6.4835 to the dollar in the afternoon, after the People's Bank of China set the yuan mid-point fix at 6.4908. China's central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2 percent against the dollar relative to the official fixing rate.

Oil prices advanced during Asian hours, ahead of the oil producers' meeting in Doha, which is expected to discuss a possible production freeze. Global benchmark Brent advanced 0.27 percent to $43.96 a barrel as of 3:17 p.m. HK/SIN time, while U.S. crude was up 0.24 percent at $41.60.

Energy plays ended mixed, with shares of Santos adding 0.48 percent, Woodside Petroleum advancing 1.99 percent and Inpex down 2.3 percent. Chinese mainland oil shares were mostly lower, with China Oilfield losing 0.74 percent.

Overnight, U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing up 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 adding 0.02 percent and the Nasdaq composite finishing down 0.03 percent.

David de Garis, a director and senior economist for fixed income, currencies and commodities at National Australia Bank, said in a note that risk sentiment "took something of a breather overnight, without going into reverse."

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