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updated: 3/14/2013 7:19 AM

Asia stocks cautious despite strong US retail data

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  • A woman chats with her fellow investor at a private securities company Tuesday in Shanghai, China.

      A woman chats with her fellow investor at a private securities company Tuesday in Shanghai, China.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

BANGKOK -- Asian stock markets mostly retreated Thursday as caution prevailed despite a ninth day of gains on Wall Street and a bump up in U.S. retail sales.

Stocks in Hong Kong fell as a result of investor disappointment as the annual National People's Congress in Beijing heads toward its conclusion without having announced policy moves to stimulate the economy. The Hang Seng fell 0.7 percent to 22,395.50.

"It is disappointment that the Chinese government did not launch any ... economic stimulus as expected. The speculators have played up the market ahead of the congress and they are disappointed," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.

Lun said that mortgage rate increases by two major banks also hurt property stocks. Hong Kong-listed Henderson Land Development Co. dropped 4.2 percent. Sino Land Co. lost 2.7 percent.

In Australia, a report showing the country experienced its strongest job growth in more than a decade in February hurt stock market sentiment since it diminished hopes of an interest rate cut, analysts said. The S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.9 percent to 5,046.30.

But the jobs trend was not likely to continue because the mining boom that has been fueling growth is sputtering, analysts said.

"It is unlikely that we will see a sustained improvement in jobs numbers despite the decent pace of growth," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary.

BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, fell 2 percent in Sydney. Rival mining giant Rio Tinto fell 2.1 percent.

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi shed 0.5 percent to 1,990.60. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines also fell.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.8 percent to 12,339.52. Benchmarks in mainland China and New Zealand were also higher.

On Wednesday, a U.S. government report showed retail sales grew 1.1 percent in January from the previous month, almost twice as much as forecast. The rise showed consumer spending, which makes up about three quarters of economic activity in the U.S., was not inhibited by recent tax increases.

Market sentiment had been dented earlier in the day, when official statistics showed that industrial production across the 17 euro countries fell by a worse-than-expected 0.4 percent in January. Both Germany and France, the two industrial powerhouses in the region, registered drops in production.

The Dow Jones industrial average notched its ninth gain in a row Wednesday, giving the index its longest winning streak in more than 16 years. Demand for stocks has been propelled this year by optimism that the housing market is recovering and that companies have started to hire. Strong company earnings and ongoing stimulus from the Federal Reserve are also helping make stocks more attractive.

The Dow rose 0.04 percent to close at 14,455.28. The S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent to close at 1,554.52. The Nasdaq composite rose nearly 0.1 percent to 3,245.12.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2945 from $1.2961 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 96.04 yen.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was down 24 cents to $92.28 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 2 cents to close at $92.52 on the Nymex on Wednesday.

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