Asian Shares Slip As Trade Hopes Wane

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Asian stocks ended Thursday's session mostly lower as comments by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer dampened recent optimism about the U.S.-China trade talks.

Investor sentiment was also dented by weak data from China and news that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have abruptly ended summit talks earlier than scheduled.

Chinese shares fell as weak data reinforced fears that the world's second-largest economy is losing momentum.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index dropped 12.87 points or 0.44 percent to 2,940.95 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended down 0.43 percent at 28,633.18.

Activity in China's vast manufacturing sector continued to contract in February, and at a faster rate, the latest survey from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed with a manufacturing PMI score of 49.2.

That missed expectations for a score of 49.5, which would have been unchanged from the previous month.

The non-manufacturing PMI came in with a score of 54.3 in February - shy of expectations for 54.5 and down from 54.7 in the previous month.

Japanese shares fell as hopes for progress in U.S-China trade talks faded and a historic summit ended without agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Weak industrial output and retail sales data also weighed on markets.

The Nikkei average fell 171.35 points or 0.79 percent to 21,385.16 while the broader Topix index closed 0.79 percent lower at 1,607.66.

Machinery and shipping stocks fell the most, with Fanuc, Mitsui OSK Lines and Komatsu falling 2-3 percent. Gaming firm Nexon Co soared 4.7 percent on the buzz that its holding firm NXC Corp is up for grabs.

In economic news, industrial production in Japan fell a seasonally adjusted 3.7 percent month on month in January, a government report showed. That missed expectations for a decline of 2.5 percent following the 0.1 percent fall in December.

The total value of retail sales in Japan was down a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent sequentially in the month, missing expectations for a decline of 0.8 percent following the 0.9 percent increase in December.

Australian markets eked out modest gains, with financials and healthcare companies leading the surge.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 18.70 points or 0.30 percent to 6,169, taking the monthly gain to over 5 percent, its biggest monthly gain since July 2016. The broader All Ordinaries index ended up 19.10 points or 0.31 percent at 6,252.70.

The big four banks rose between 0.4 percent and 1.3 percent in view of a less harsh outcome from a bank inquiry into financial misconduct. Healthcare stocks witnessed defensive buying, with CSL climbing as much as 3.1 percent.

Ramsay Health Care surged 5.9 percent as it reported a nearly 10 percent increase in first-half profit and reaffirmed its outlook for full-year earnings.

Mining stocks ended mixed after the release of weaker Chinese factory data. BHP fell 1.2 percent and Fortescue Metals Group tumbled 5.2 percent while Rio Tinto rose over 1 percent.

On the data front, reports on private capital expenditure and private sector credit proved to be a mixed bag.

Seoul stocks closed sharply lower as the U.S.-North Korea summit ended abruptly with no deal. The benchmark Kospi plunged 39.35 points or 1.76 percent to 2,195.44 ahead of a long holiday weekend.

The local markets will be closed Friday to commemorate the March 1 Independence Movement, which took place in 1919.

Tech stocks succumbed to heavy selling pressure, with LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix losing 2-5 percent.

Investors ignored positive industrial output data showing that production in South Korea climbed a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent month on month in January, - rebounding from the 0.8 percent contraction in December.

New Zealand shares rose as the local earnings season drew to a close. The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 43.56 points or 0.47 percent to finish at 9,325.03, led by utilities.

Fonterra Shareholders' Fund units plunged 6.4 percent after the dairy cooperative cut its forecast earnings and said it won't pay an interim dividend.

Overnight, U.S. stocks ended mixed after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that China needs to go beyond pledging to buy more U.S. goods to reach to a long-term trade agreement.

The Dow dropped 0.3 percent and the S&P 500 edged down 0.1 percent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite inched up 0.1 percent.