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Asia stocks decline after China reports weak trade data; Japan and Australia fall more than 2 percent

Key Points
  • Shares in Australia, Japan, South Korea and China saw losses on the day.
  • Chinese trade data for November came significantly below expectations over the weekend.
  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told CBS in an interview Sunday that the end of the 90-day pause in tariff escalation between Washington and Beijing in their trade war is a "hard deadline."

Stocks in Asia declined on Monday following significantly weaker-than-expected Chinese trade data released over the weekend.

The mainland Chinese markets, closely watched as a result of the trade war between Beijing and Washington, slipped on the day. The Shanghai composite declined by 0.82 percent to close at about 2,584.58 while the Shenzhen composite shed 1.345 percent to finish the trading day at around 1,332.53.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.22 percent during its final hour of trade as Hong Kong-listed shares of China Construction Bank slipped 1.39 percent and Chinese tech juggernaut Tencent lost 0.9 percent.

Chinese November trade data dwindles

China reported notably weaker than expected November exports and imports, which pointed to slower global and domestic demand and raised the possibility that Beijing may undertake more measures to boost growth.

November exports rose 5.4 percent from a year earlier, according to Chinese customs data on Saturday, which was below the 10 percent jump predicted by a Reuters poll. That number was also the weakest performance since a 3 percent contraction in March. The customs data showed that annual growth for exports to all of China's major partners slowed significantly.

Import growth was 3 percent, the slowest since October 2016, and a fraction of the 14.5 percent expected in the Reuters poll. Imports of iron ore fell for a second time, reflecting waning restocking demand at steel-mills as profit margins narrow.

"China's November trade data missed expectations by a hefty margin," said analysts from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in a morning note.

"Softer export growth reflects slower global growth and the fading effect of US importers' front‑loading shipments to avoid increases in tariffs. Falling import growth points to softening domestic demand. But we expect Chinese fiscal stimulus to support imports in 2019," they said.

Rest of Asia mostly declines

Elsewhere in the region, Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 2.12 percent to close at 21,219.50 while the Topix index dropped 1.89 percent to end the trading day at 1,589.81.

Shares of Japan Display plunged 10.61 percent after the company earlier said it had no plans to cut production of its smartphone panels in December, following reports that it was planning to do so. Electronics firm Pioneer plummeted 27.27 percent on the back of its acquisition by Baring Private Equity Asia.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Kospi also slipped 1.06 percent to close at 2,053.79, with shares of chipmaker SK Hynix dropping 1.95 percent.

Over in Australia, the closed 2.27 percent lower at 5,552.50, with almost all sectors seeing losses.

The financial subindex Down Under fell 3.12 percent as shares of Australia's so-called Big Four Banks declined. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group dropped 4.16 percent and Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 2.98 percent. Westpac slipped 3.38 percent and National Australia Bank was down 2.54 percent.

"Geo-Political issues once again look set to influence markets this week when traditionally traders expect a slow down as we head into Christmas market trading conditions," said Rakuten Securities Australia in a note.

"Sentiment is once again expected to dominate direction as we move through today's trading sessions and traders will be keeping a close eye on news wires for any changes in the current situation on a variety of issues," they said.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

China lodges 'strong protests' to Huawei CFO arrest

China summoned the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Terry Branstad, on Sunday to dispute the arrest of Chinese electronics giant Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.

The official Xinhua news agency said Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng "lodged solemn representations and strong protests" with Branstad over Meng's arrest. She is reportedly suspected of trying to evade U.S. trade curbs on Iran, and was detained on Dec. 1 in Vancouver, Canada.

On Saturday, Canadian Ambassador John McCallum was also summoned over Meng's detention and warned of "grave consequences" if the Huawei executive was not released.

Huawei is one of the largest mobile phone makers in the world and the company has come under pressure from Washington. It faces a restriction on selling telecoms equipment in the U.S. due to what American officials describe as national security concerns.

Beyond potentially influencing the technology space, the arrest may also have implications for the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.

Shares of companies associated to Huawei saw declines on Monday trade following the weekend's developments.

In Hong Kong, acoustic components supplier AAC Technologies slipped 0.69 percent while Chinasoft International, where Huawei is a strategic shareholder, fell more than 4 percent. Sunny Optical, which makes some of the lenses for Huawei phones, bucked the overall downward trend to rise 2.75 percent.

Over in Japan, conglomerate Softbank saw its stock decline by 3.51 percent ahead of the public listing of its mobile unit on Dec. 19. Last year, SoftBank and Huawei jointly demonstrated potential use of the next generation of high-speed mobile internet.

'Hard deadline' on US-China trade war pause

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told CBS in an interview on Sunday that the end of the 90-day pause in tariff escalation between Washington and Beijing in their trade war is a "hard deadline."

"As far as I am concerned it is a hard deadline. When I talk to the president of the United States he is not talking about going beyond March," he said on the CBS show "Face the Nation," referring to President Donald Trump's decision to delay tariffs imposition until March 1 while talks proceed.

At the G-20 summit in Argentina, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping struck an agreement to delay imposing additional tariffs on each other's goods for 90 days.

Sat Duhra, fund manager at Janus Henderson Investors, told CNBC's "Street Signs" that he was "quite hopeful that some kind of resolution will be reached" between the two economic powerhouses.

That will, however, likely come about as a result of a "compromise" from China, Duhra said, adding that "China has a weaker hand at this point."

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.510 after touching highs around the 97.2 handle last week. Meanwhile, the saw gains against the dollar, trading 0.5 percent higher at $1.1433.

The Japanese yen, widely viewed as a safe-haven currency, traded at 112.56 after seeing lows around 113.8 last week. The was at $0.7212 after touching highs around $0.739 in the previous week.

— Reuters contributed to this report.