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Asia markets drift lower as investors digest China data

  • Most Asian markets closed lower as investors digested the release of China data.
  • China's economy grew 6.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, beating expectations.
  • Investors stateside shifted their focus from geopolitics to earnings.
  • Oil prices pared some losses after falling in the last session amid fading geopolitical fears.

Asian markets closed mostly lower on Tuesday as investors digested the release of a raft of China data, including expectation-topping first-quarter GDP growth. The dollar also eased further while oil prices pared some overnight losses.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 edged up 0.06 percent, or 12.06 points, to close at 21,847.59 after trading both in and out of positive territory through the day. The broader Topix declined 0.36 percent, as the oil sector recorded gains amid declines seen in most other sectors.

Over in Seoul, the Kospi shed 0.15 percent to end at 2,453.77. Automakers and steelmakers climbed, while index bellwether Samsung Electronics slipped 0.72 percent.

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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Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 finished the day flat at 5,841.50, with financials stocks slipping 0.33 percent and weighing on the broader index.

Greater China markets were lower after the release of key data on Tuesday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index eased 0.66 percent by 3:16 p.m. HK/SIN, with technology and consumer goods stocks among the worst-performing sectors before the market close. Property developers and financials also traded lower.

Mainland China markets underperformed. The Shanghai composite lost 1.39 percent to close lower for the fourth straight session at 3,067.52 and the Shenzhen composite fell 2.2 percent to 1,784.56.

China's economy grew 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018, beating an estimate of 6.7 percent on year growth projected in a Reuters poll.

"China's economy entered 2018 with solid growth momentum ... But momentum slowed in March, compared to the first two months, pointing to slower growth ahead," Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, said in a note.

Apart from the steady growth figure, other data released Tuesday was mixed. March retail sales came in better than expected, while industrial output growth for the month and fixed asset investment in the first quarter missed estimates.

MSCI's broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan was last lower by 0.34 percent.

Tentative moves in the region came despite U.S. stocks closing higher in the last session as investors shifted their attention from geopolitical tensions to strong corporate earnings releases.

Expectations for earnings season stateside are high, with first-quarter results projected to rise 18.6 percent compared to one year ago, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

Trade tensions also continued to simmer, having taken a backseat in recent sessions.

The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a denial of export privileges against China's ZTE, a telecommunications equipment company. The ban stops U.S. companies from selling to ZTE for seven years, Reuters reported, and comes after the Chinese firm failed to adhere to an agreement with the U.S. government after it illegally shipped equipment to Iran and North Korea, U.S. officials said.

ZTE shares in Hong Kong and Shenzhen were halted from trade on Tuesday, pending an announcement.

In individual movers, Hyundai Motor closed up 2.94 percent. The advance came amid Reuters headlines that a unit of Elliott Management, which owns more than $1 billion in shares of Hyundai affiliates, was supportive of the automaker's reorganization plans.

Meanwhile, the dollar eased further against a basket of currencies after investor confidence firmed overnight, with the dollar index last at 89.296.

The greenback extended losses against the yen, trading at 106.92 at 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN, compared to levels above the 107.1 handle seen earlier in the session.

Of note, the pound rose as high as $1.4372 during the session, the currency's strongest levels since Brexit.

On the commodities front, oil prices were moderately higher after Monday's fall. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures added 0.63 percent to trade at $66.64 per barrel and Brent crude futures edged up 0.48 percent to $71.77.

— CNBC's Huileng Tan contributed to this report.