Asian stocks hit by UK growth data

Asian stock markets fell today, hit by a weaker-than-expected report on US durable goods orders and signs of slower economic growth in the UK.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index retreated for a second day from a one-year high, falling 0.8% to 10,103.06.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng tumbled 1.1% to 20,650.15 and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 1.1% to 2,010.33.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.1% to 4,339.70, while benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China also fell.

The US Commerce Department said orders for durable goods rose 2.2% in February. This came after a steep drop in January, but analysts had expected orders to increase 2.7%.

“Yesterday’s durable goods report suggested further weakness ahead,” said analysts at DBS Bank in Singapore. While recent sentiment has focused on data pointing toward an accelerating US economy, the analysts said that “deceleration, and a fairly one sharp at that, is what’s going on”.

Meanwhile, a revised report showed that the UK economy shrank 0.3% between October and December, compared with the previous estimate of a 0.2% drop.

Investors are holding back as they await news later this week on Europe’s progress in resolving its debt crisis and also weekly jobless claims in the US, analysts said.

Investors are also concerned about recent signs of a slowdown in China. The country is a huge importer of raw materials, so a slowing economy there can weigh on prices for raw materials.

Falling commodity prices on Wednesday punished materials and energy companies, pushing Wall Street’s major stock indexes to a lower close.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.5% at 13,126.21, Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 0.5% to 1,405.54, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.5% to 3,104.96.

Benchmark crude oil was down 7 cents to 105.34 dollars per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 1.92 dollars to end at 105.41 dollars on the Nymex on Wednesday.

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