Asia Markets

Stocks in Asia tumble; China leads losses after trade data disappoints

Key Points
  • Mainland Chinese shares cratered on the day, with the Shanghai composite falling more than 4 percent.
  • Chinese February trade data came in below expectations.
  • The European Central Bank on Thursday cut its growth forecast for 2019 and announcing a fresh round of stimulus to aid banks in the region.

Stocks in major Asian stock markets closed lower on Friday as investors grappled with fresh concerns over the state of the global economy, with Chinese trade data for February coming in below expectations.

Mainland Chinese shares cratered on the day, with the Shanghai composite falling 4.4 percent to close at 2,969.86 and the Shenzhen component slipping 3.248 percent to finish at 9,363.72. The Shenzhen composite shed 3.791 percent to close at 1,605.28.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index declined more than 1.8 percent in its final hour of trading.

Chinese customs data on Friday showed that dollar-denominated exports for China fell 20.7 percent for the month of February from a year ago, missing a 4.8 percent decline that economists polled by Reuters had expected.

Dollar-denominated imports fell 5.2 percent in February from a year ago, missing economists' forecast of a 1.4 percent fall.

Analysts, however, say data from China in the first two months of the year must be treated with caution due to business distortions caused by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year public holiday which started on Feb. 4 this year.

"A 20-percent decline is a big number. I think the market is clearly disappointed by this," Sarah Lien, a director and client portfolio manager at Eastspring Investments (Singapore), told CNBC's "Capital Connection" on Friday. "But to put things into perspective, I think we've been talking about a global growth slowdown and a China slowdown for a long time now, so it's not completely unexpected to see a negative number."

Lien added that Eastspring remained "very bullish" on China, and the country's long-term outlook looked constructive. In particular, she pointed to China's "hugely growing" domestic market, where there was "plenty of opportunity" for investors.

Japan falls 2 percent

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 2.01 percent to close at 21,025.56, as shares of index heavyweights Fast Retailing, Softbank and Fanuc all declined. The Topix also slipped 1.82 percent to finish its trading week at 1,572.44.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi shed 1.31 to close at 2,137.44 percent as automaker Hyundai Motor saw its stock drop 4.38 percent.

Meanwhile, the in Australia fell 0.96 percent to close at 6,203.80, with almost all the sectors seeing declines. The heavily weighted financial subindex shed 1.58 percent as bank shares slipped.

"Sentiment has certainly turned as this week has progressed and investors are now looking at more downside projections. Central banks seem to be preparing for a tough next few quarters with a much more pronounced dovish tone coming from many governors over recent announcements," analysts from Rakuten Securities Australia said in a morning note.

Growth worries

The European Central Bank on Thursday cut its growth forecast for 2019 and announced a fresh round of stimulus to aid banks in the region.

ECB President Mario Draghi said the central bank cut its growth estimate to 1.1 percent, down from a 1.7 percent expansion forecast released in December.

The ECB's announcements come amid lingering concerns over a possible economic slowdown across the globe. The Bank of Canada said Wednesday there was "increased uncertainty" around future rate hikes, while Australia's fourth-quarter GDP expanded at a pace of just 0.2 percent. In the U.S., meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve has already signaled it will be "patient" in raising rates.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.470 after an earlier high of 97.639.

The Japanese yen, often regarded as a safe-haven currency, traded at 110.99 against the dollar after seeing an earlier low of 111.64. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7004 after touching an earlier high of $0.7028.

Oil prices declined in afternoon Asian trade, with the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract slipping 1.06 percent to $65.60 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also shed 0.90 percent to $56.15 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert and Huileng Tan contributed to this report.