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Asian markets sink as traders fail to take up Wall St baton

HONG KONG: Asian markets turned lower Friday as investors struggled to take the lead from a record performance on Wall Street, and following below-forecast Chinese factory data.

News that US growth had accelerated more than six percent in the first quarter and jobless claims continued to fall to new pandemic-era lows reinforced the view that the recovery in the world’s top economy was well on track.

That came after the head of the Federal Reserve had reiterated the bank’s commitment to keeping monetary policy ultra-loose until it is satisfied the economy is strong enough.

In response the S&P 500 hit another record, helped by a string of outsized earnings from tech heavyweights including Apple, Facebook and Google.

But, after a broadly upbeat week Asia was unable to build on the positive run, with most markets in negative territory.

Hong Kong led the losses, with tech firms including JD.com, Meituan and Tencent taking a hit after China ramped up its crackdown on the sector by summoning 13 companies to call for changes to their fintech operations.

The group was told to heed the case of ecommerce titan Alibaba, which was hit with a record $2.78 billion fine by regulators for abusing its dominant market position.

Adding to the selling pressure was a report showing growth in China’s factory activity slowed last month, hit by a global shortage of shipping containers, supply chain problems and rising freight rates.

There were also losses in Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul, Wellington and Manila, though Singapore and Jakarta edged up.

Still, observers remain upbeat about the outlook as vaccinations pick up and lockdowns are eased, while vast sums of government and central bank cash swirls around the economy.

“All evidence still points to continued support from both fiscal and monetary policy against a backdrop of accelerating corporate earnings,” Mark Haefele, at UBS Global Wealth Management, said.

“This reinforces our view that markets can advance further, with cyclical parts of the market — such as financials, energy, and value stocks — likely to benefit most from the global upswing.”

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