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Asian stock markets uneven as investors weigh weak China trade, rebound in Japan GDP growth

HONG KONG – Asian stock markets were uneven Monday as investors weighed stronger growth in Japan against more evidence of economic weakness in China.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed less than 0.1 per cent lower at 20,457.19 and South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.1 per cent to 2,065.19. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5 per cent to 27,404.10. The Shanghai Composite Index in China jumped 2.3 per cent to 5,141.05, boosted by hopes for more economic stimulus. Southeast Asian benchmarks were lower. Australia’s stock market was closed for a holiday.

JAPAN ECONOMY: The Cabinet Office said the economy grew 3.9 per cent in the January-March quarter, faster than the 2.4 per cent initially estimated. However, the picture may not be as rosy as the headline number suggests, as analysts expect growth in the second quarter to slow sharply as consumer spending slows and industrial output wanes.

ANALYST VIEW: Rising inventories contributed to the Japan data’s upward revision the first quarter and “this implies that the underlying pace of demand was not nearly as strong as the headline suggests,” said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics. Core consumer spending fell in April to the lowest level since last summer and industrial output may well contract this quarter, and “we therefore expect a sharp slowdown in GDP growth in the second quarter.”

CHINA TRADE: Chinese exports contracted 2.8 per cent from a year earlier in May while imports shrank 18.1 per cent, the latest sign of a sputtering growth in the world’s No. 2 economy. For the first five months of the year, total imports and exports fell 7.8 per cent, customs data showed. China’s economy expanded 7 per cent in the first quarter, the slowest quarterly growth since the global financial crisis in 2008.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks drifted to a loss on Friday despite a burst of hiring in the U.S. job market in May. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 per cent to 17,849.46 while the Standard & Poor’s 500 lost 0.1 per cent to 2,092.83. The Nasdaq edged up 0.2 per cent, to 5,068.46.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil dropped 45 cents to $58.68 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange following the OPEC’s decision to keep its oil output target on hold. The contract rose $1.13 to close at $59.13 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell 5 cents to $63.24 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 125.17 yen from 125.61 yen on Friday. The euro strengthened to $1.1146 from $1.1113.