Asian stocks open lower ahead of China growth data, oil at 12-year lows

Asian stocks open lower ahead of China growth data, oil at 12-year lows

TOKYO - Asian stocks were subdued early on Tuesday (Jan 19) following a retreat in European shares overnight, while crude oil prices remained bearish following the lifting of sanctions against major producer Iran.

Tuesday's immediate focus was on data due out of China, which has been the epicentre of the global tumult in financial markets seen this year.

Asia had no leads from Wall Street as the US markets were closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Day.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dipped 0.1 per cent, touching its lowest since 2011.

Japanese stocks fell for a fourth day, with benchmark gauges on the cusp of sliding into a bear market. The Topix index slipped 0.4 per cent, taking its loss since a high on Aug 10 to 18 per cent. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 0.4 per cent, down 19 per cent from a high on June 24. Oil continued to tumble as investors await a swathe of data on China's economy.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index, which has lost more than 10 per cent this year, dropped a further 0.3 per cent on Monday, with an index of euro zone banks down 3.4 per cent.

European bank shares took a hit after the European Central Bank said it would quiz euro zone lenders about high levels of bad loans.

The markets will assess the Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) data due at 10 am Singapore time to see whether the economy records its weakest quarterly growth in nearly seven years, as expected.

Fourth-quarter Chinese GDP growth is expected to slow to 6.8 per cent from a year earlier, down from 6.9 per cent in the third quarter and the weakest since early 2009, according to analysts polled by Reuters.

Investors will also keep an eye on Tuesday's Chinese industrial production and fixed asset investment numbers to gauge the health of China's economy, a major theme in global markets' rocky start to 2016.

"Given the pick-up in a range of Chinese activity data we have seen in November and December, there is a decent possibility we actually see a slight beat for GDP, industrial production and fixed asset investment," wrote Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne.

"If this were to occur, alongside further gains in Chinese equities, markets could be in for a short-term bounce today as they come off heavily-sold levels." In commodities, US crude was down 1.4 per cent at US$29.01 a barrel, not far from a 2003 low of US$28.36 hit overnight.

Responding to Tehran's compliance with a nuclear deal, the United States and major powers this week revoked international sanctions that had cut Iran's oil exports by about 2 million barrels per day (bpd) since their pre-sanctions 2011 peak to little more than 1 million bpd.

In the currency markets, the US dollar held to modest gains against the yen after rising overnight amid a slight thaw in risk aversion.

The dollar was little changed at 117.39 yen after rising 0.2 per cent overnight, managing to pull away from a 4-1/2-month low of 116.51 touched last week.

The euro was flat at US$1.0893 after dipping about 0.2 per cent on Monday.

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