Stocks fall, Chinese trade data weighs

Friday, 11 March 2011 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

(Reuters) - Asian stock markets and copper prices fell on Thursday after surprisingly weak Chinese trade data hit markets already nervous that higher oil prices will cut global growth.

Investors were also worried about the euro zone’s sovereign debt problem after Portugal on Wednesday saw its cost for issuing two-year debt soar to its highest level since it joined the euro in 1999, rekindling fears Lisbon will need a bailout.

 That put the euro in a tough position, having recently risen on the back of expectations of a possible April interest rate hike by the European Central Bank. The common currency fell to $1.3870 , well off highs just above $1.40 on Monday.

 The combination of negative factors knocked 1.5 percent off

Tokyo’s Nikkei average . Stocks elsewhere in Asia slid 1.3 percent.

 U.S. stock index futures   were also in the red, suggesting a weak start for Wall Street.

 Technology shares in Asia came under extra pressure after sector heavyweight Texas Instruments issued a weak outlook. Samsung Electronics fell 2.7 percent.

 Latest data showed China swung to a surprise trade deficit in February of $7.3 billion, its largest in seven years, as the Lunar New Year holiday dealt a sharper blow to export activity than had been expected.

 “It’s come on a day when commodity prices are off, and investors are worried about global growth and it’s just accentuated the market pullback,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors.

 “The Lunar New Year does heavily distort Chinese trade data and I’ll be inclined not to read too much into it. But the market is obviously feeling nervous and has probably read a bit more into it.”

 Shanghai copper fell nearly 3 percent after the weak Chinese trade data cast doubts on demand from the world’s biggest consumer of the metal. Copper on the London Metal Exchange shed 0.4 percent to $9,235 a tonne.

 “The Middle East crisis which sent oil prices surging, as well as doubts on whether China’s copper demand would continue to boom, have cast a shadow on the market,” said Zhu Bin, an analyst at Nanhua Futures based in China.

 U.S. crude rose towards $105 a barrel, not far from a peak near $107 earlier this week, after forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi bombed oil industry infrastructure, inflicting what could be longer-term damage on the country’s exporting capacity.

 Brent crude gained 0.3 percent to $116.26.

 Rising oil prices have fuelled worries about inflation, prompting the Bank of Korea to raise interest rates on Thursday for a fourth time in less than a year in a bid to keep a lid on prices.

 New Zealand, on the other hand, cut rates as expected to try to help its economy recover after last month’s devastating earthquake.

 Revised data on Thursday showed Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, shrank at a slightly faster annualised pace in the fourth quarter than initially reported.

 But analysts expect improving exports to help the Japanese economy return to growth this year, although they warned that high oil prices pose a threat to the outlook.

 The rout in stock markets helped lift demand for U.S.

Treasuries, sending the benchmark 10-year yield down to 3.462 percent, near a one-week low around 3.449 percent set on Wednesday.

 This was despite news the world’s largest bond fund had gone ultra bearish on the United States, dumping all of its U.S. government-related debt holdings.