Japan stocks drop more than 4%; private survey of China’s manufacturing activity beats expectations

Stocks in Asia were lower on Wednesday as a private survey showed Chinese manufacturing activity expanding slightly in March.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 led losses among the region’s major markets as it dropped 4.5% to close at 18,065.41, with shares of robot maker Fanuc plunging 6.58%. The Topix index shed 3.7% to end its trading day at 1,351.08. The big manufacturer’s index in the Bank of Japan’s Tankan March 2020 for the first quarter came in at -8. That was its lowest level since March 2013, according to Reuters. Still, that was above expectations of a reading of -10 in a Reuters poll.

Mainland Chinese stocks shed earlier gains to close lower, with the Shanghai composite down 0.57% to about 2,734.52 while the Shenzhen composite slipped 0.351% to around 1,660.08.

The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ index for March came in at 50.1, above expectations of a reading of 45.5 by analysts in a Reuters poll. The data release came on the back of February’s reading of 40.3, the sharpest contraction on record. PMI readings below 50 signify a contraction, while figures above that level indicate an expansion.

On Tuesday, China said its official manufacturing PMI for March came in at 52.0, indicating an expansion and defying expectations of a contraction. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the figure to come in at 45 for the month.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong declined more than 2%, as of its final hour of trading.

Hong Kong-listed shares of HSBC and Standard Chartered plunged 9.06% and 6.83%, respectively. The moves came after both British lenders canceled dividend payments at the request of the U.K. financial regulator in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi fell 3.94% to close at 1,685.46. Meanwhile, shares in Australia rose, with the S&P/ASX 200 ending its trading day 3.58% higher at 5,258.60.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 1.16% lower.

JPMorgan Asset Management’s Tai Hui told CNBC on Wednesday that it’s “still premature” for investors to return into equities “in any major quantity or amount.”

“The earnings and certainty is still the biggest issue,” said Tai, who is chief Asia market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “We don’t know the duration of this slowdown or recession globally.”

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 99.368 after touching an earlier low of 98.911.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.54 per dollar after strengthening from levels above 108 yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6078 after seeing an earlier high of $0.6158.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 3.26% to $25.49 per barrel. U.S. crude futures slipped 0.73% to $20.33 per barrel.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.

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