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=ASIA MARKETS: Asian Stocks End Flat After Mixed Chinese Economic Data

HONG KONG (Mar 14) -- Asian shares ended little changed on Thursday as investors weighed a mixed set of Chinese economic data and U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest comments on Sino-American trade talks.

The Nikkei Asia300 Index of companies outside Japan edged 0.01% higher at 1,307.58 after slipping 0.3% on Wednesday.

Concerns over a slowdown in Asia’s largest economy lingered after a clutch of data releases for the first two months of the year. China’s factory output rose 5.3% in January and February, the slowest pace of expansion since 2002, according to Reuters. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 5.5% reading.

Meanwhile, data on retail sales and fixed investment came in ahead of estimates. Retail sales increased 8.2% and fixed investment by 6.1%, both quicker than expected.

The expansion in China’s fixed asset investment “reflects the effects of supportive policy measures implemented in late 2018,” ANZ Research wrote in a note. It added that with China’s manufacturing sector “still in the doldrums” on account of U.S. and China trade uncertainty, investment remains the key near-term driver to stabilize growth.

On the U.S. and China trade agreement, Trump reportedly said on Wednesday that “things are going along very well” and that was no rush to conclude a deal. He added that it had to be a “good deal” for the U.S. and if it was not, no agreement would be made.

Broad weakness for Asian equities on Thursday came despite a positive from Wall Street. The S&P 500 Index rose for third straight day amid tame wholesale U.S. inflation data, which reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve will likely maintain status quo in the near term.

Chinese carmakers and insurers were among losers on the A300 index on Thursday, while mainland airlines and energy names advanced.

Hong Kong shares of China Life Insurance slid 0.9% despite a 22.4% increase in accumulated premium income for January and February.

China Southern Airlines rose 3.3% after reporting a 10.6% increase in passengers carried during February.

CNOOC led energy companies higher, adding 3.8% in the wake of Brent crude’s climb to four-month highs.

China Unicom (Hong Kong) climbed 3.3% its net profit for 2018 surged nearly six times on year, thanks to revenue growth and cost control measures.

Diversified Hong Kong conglomerate Swire Pacific closed 0.5% lower after saying that 2018 net profit declined by 9%.

- By Nimesh Vora;; +852 3960 5150
- Edited by Suzannah Benjamin
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