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Market Update

Asian Markets Retreat; Data in Focus

Asian stocks drifted lower Thursday after scaling multi-year highs in the previous session as investors focused on some weak earnings and data in the region.

The Nikkei was down 0.8% at 1:00 p.m. Tokyo time. The Shanghai Composite was little changed while the Hang Seng erased 0.5%.

The Sensex eased 0.2% and the S&P/ASX All Ordinaries slipped 0.3%.

Sentiment was largely downbeat at open after Wall Street equities ended lower after data showed U.S. economy surprisingly contracted on a quarterly basis. Fourth-quarter gross domestic product came in at -0.1%, starkly lower than the third-quarter reading of 3.1%.

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, concluded its two-day policy meeting and said it would continue with its current bond-purchase program.

Investors also had some regional data to consider -- Japan's industrial production in December rose a seasonally adjusted 2.5% over the previous month, as against expectations of an increase of 4.5%.

A separate survey showed Japanese manufacturing activity contracted in January although the pace of contraction slowed for the first time in four months.

Manufacturing PMI came in at 47.7 up from the previous reading of 45, but still below the crucial mark of 50. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in economic activity and vice versa.

Stocks on the move

Exporters in Tokyo were mostly lower as investors booked profits after recent gains, and as the dollar lost ground against the Japanese yen after the Fed Reserve maintained its monetary stimulus program.   

Sharp Corp. and Sony Corp. were both down 2.8%.

In earnings related news, Canon Inc. said it expects operating profit to increase 26.6% this year amid aggressive cost cutting measures and on account of a weaker yen. Shares of Canon Inc. were down 1.4% nevertheless.

Financials were in focus after Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group reported better-than-expected numbers. The stock jumped nearly 5% on heels of the reports.

Close competitors Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Mizuho Financial were up around 3% each, too.

On the other side, chip-maker Advantest Corp. dropped 3.1% after reporting disappointing third-quarter earnings late yesterday.

Nintendo Co. Ltd tumbled more than 5% after the video-game maker said it expects an operating loss for the second straight year amid lower sales of its Wii-U console.

In Hong Kong, property developers lost ground. China Overseas Land & Investment fell 2.5% while Poly Property Group gave up 1.8%.

Mainland real estate firms too underwent sharp cuts. Gemdale Corp. sank nearly 5% while Poly Real Estate Group plunged 5.5%.

Financials and resources stocks added to the losses even as oil players pushed further lower. CNOOC Ltd. shed over 3% while PetroChina retreated 1.3%.

On the upside, China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd. rose 2.3% after it upgraded its profit outlook.

But Lenovo Group pared early gains and slipped 2.2% despite posting strong growth in earnings.  

In Mumbai, stocks opened lower tracking weakness in overseas markets. Among top losers, Tata Power lost 1.4%, Tata Motors retreated 1.1% while Reliance Industries eased 1%.

In individual stocks, Suzlon Energy bounced more than 7% after its Repower Systems unit received an order from a French power company for turbines to be used in a 350-megawatt wind farm in Quebec.

Miners in Sydney were listless with index heavyweight BHP Billiton down 0.5%. Rival Rio Tinto dropped 1.1% while Fortescue Metals Group eased 1.1%.

Among banks, Westpac Banking and ANZ lost around 0.5% each while NAB dropped 1%.

But insurance companies found some support. QBE Insurance Group gained 1.5%, Insurance Australia Group Ltd. added 0.6%