- Asian stock markets were lower on Thursday, as disappointing Chinese manufacturing data underlined concerns over the strength of the region’s largest economy.

During late Asian trade, Hong Kong''s Hang Seng Index fell 1.3%, China’s Shanghai Composite index declined 0.2%, Australia’s ASX/200 Index closed 0.08% higher, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index ended down 2.15%.

Midway through the session, data showed that China’s HSBC Flash Purchasing Managers Index, the earliest indicator of the country''s industrial activity, fell to a seven-month low of 48.3 in February from a final reading of 49.5 in January.

Asia was given a negative lead from the U.S., where the Dow and S&P 500 closed lower following the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s January policy meeting.

The minutes indicated that that the current pace of its decrease in bond purchases would remain unchanged, so long as the economy shows signs of improvement.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei declined for the second consecutive day as traders continued to monitor movements in the currency market.

USD/JPY fell to a daily low of 101.76, moving off the previous session’s high of 102.45. A stronger yen decreases the value of overseas income at Japanese companies when repatriated, dampening the outlook for export earnings.

Sentiment was also dampened after Japan’s Ministry Finance reported that country’s trade deficit in January widened to ¥2.79 trillion against the expectation of ¥2.489 trillion. This was the widest reported monthly deficit in country''s history.

Japanese exports rose 9.5% in January against the forecast of 12.6% increase and the rise of 15.3% a year earlier. Imports went up by 25% against the expectation of 21.8% increase and previous rise of 24.7%.

Automakers Honda and Mazda saw shares fall 2.7% and 3% respectively, while index heavyweights Fast Retailing and Fanuc retreated 3.4% and 2.7%.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng fell sharply after hitting a three-week high earlier in the session as losses in the financial sector weighed.

China Construction Bank saw shares fall 2%, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China slumped 2.5%, while China Merchants Bank and China Citic Bank lost 2.3% and 3.8% respectively.

Elsewhere, in Australia, the ASX/200 Index rose for the fifth consecutive session to hit a fresh three-month high as market players focused on corporate earnings.

Shares in Leighton Holdings jumped 4.9% after Australia’s largest contractor reported that its annual net profit had risen by 13%.

Looking ahead, European stock market futures pointed to a lower open.

The EURO STOXX 50 futures pointed to a loss of 1% at the open, France’s CAC 40 futures shed 0.9%, London’s FTSE 100 futures indicated a decline of 0.75%, while Germany''s DAX futures pointed to a drop of 1.2%.

The euro zone is to publish closely watched data on manufacturing and service sector activity, while Germany and France are to publish individual reports.

Across the Atlantic, U.S. equity markets also pointed to a weaker open. The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures pointed to a loss of 0.35%, S&P 500 futures inched down 0.35%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a fall of 0.2%.

The U.S. is to release the weekly report on initial jobless claims and data on consumer price inflation. The nation is also to release data on manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region.

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