HONG KONG - Asian markets slipped Tuesday as soft Chinese trade data added to an already sombre mood after last week's worse-than-forecast US jobs figures.
The Bank of Japan's decision not to unveil any fresh stimulus measures also depressed sentiment and pushed the yen higher, as the optimistic outlook at the start of the year waned.
Tokyo fell 0.09 per cent, or 8.24 points, to 9,538.02, Seoul slipped 0.13 per cent, or 2.67 points, to 1,994.41 and Sydney was 0.57 per cent off, losing 24.5 points to 4,295.3.
In the afternoon Hong Kong shed 1.18 per cent and Shanghai fell 0.63 per cent.
Tuesday was the first full day of trading after the long Easter weekend break.
China said Tuesday it posted a trade surplus in March, reversing a massive deficit in February, but the figures showed that exports were still weak owing to economic woes in major overseas markets.
The country recorded a trade surplus of $5.35 billion in March, as exports rose 8.9 per cent. However, imports rose just 5.3 per cent, raising concerns about the domestic economy.
In February, China posted a huge deficit of $31.48 billion - the largest in more than a decade - as it felt the ripples from the debt crisis in Europe and the stuttering recovery in the United States.
On Tuesday data showed China's consumer price index, the main gauge of inflation, hit 3.6 per cent in March from 3.2 per cent in February. The rise added to concerns that Beijing may not ease monetary policy as quickly or as much as previously hoped.
Last month Premier Wen Jiabao said consumer prices were still high and said the government's aim was to keep inflation within four per cent this year. Investors will now be looking to more data later this week, including growth and industrial production.
Sentiment was already weak after the US Labor Department reported Friday that the economy created just 120,000 jobs in March, well below forecasts of 200,000. However, the unemployment rate edged down to a more than three-year-low of 8.2 per cent from 8.3 per cent.
In response to the figures, on Wall Street Monday the Dow fell one per cent, the S&P 500 shed 1.14 per cent and the Nasdaq dropped 1.08 per cent.
"All these disappointments highlight the fact that any global economic recovery won't be happening in a straight line," said Justin Harper, market strategist at IG Markets Singapore, in a note.
"There will be blips and setbacks along the way. Hopefully March's nonfarm payroll data is one such blip and not the start of a downward trend," Harper added, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
The yen reversed an earlier dip against the euro and dollar, after the Bank of Japan held off any new monetary easing measures.
The central bank, wrapping up a two-day policy board meeting at which it left its key interest rate unchanged at between zero and 0.1 per cent, repeated its view that the world's third-largest economy was showing signs of picking up.
The yen had fallen earlier Tuesday on hopes the central bank would usher in new easing measures.
The greenback was changing hands at 81.34 yen in afternoon trade, just down from 81.49 yen in New York late Monday and well off the 81.80 yen level on Tuesday before the BoJ announcement.
The euro was at 106.91 yen, up from 106.80 yen in New York but down from 107.38 yen earlier Tuesday.
On oil markets, New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in May eased 34 cents at $102.12 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for May fell 46 cents to $122.21 in afternoon trade.
Gold was at $1,652.70 an ounce at 0600 GMT, compared with $1,640.30 late Monday.