BANGKOK - Asian stock markets floundered Friday, as traders displayed caution ahead of the release of trade data from China.
The trade figures come a day after renewed signs of sluggishness among some of the world's leading emerging economies: China reported a slowdown in growth slowed in auto sales and factory output and India reported lower industrial output for the third time in four months.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.6 per cent to 8,924.82. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.3 per cent to 20,202.31 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.5 per cent to 4,288.10. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 per cent to 1,942.51. Smaller markets also rose, including those in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market report that China's import and export figures would likely show subdued domestic demand and weakening overseas demand.
Dariusz Kowalcyzk, senior economist at Credit Agricole, said the chances are greater for Chinese authorities to embark on more stimulus measures to support growth if imports show weakness.
"This would be negative for current growth, but is likely to be interpreted the same way as yesterday's disappointing industrial output data — as increasing the odds of more decisive stimulus. Thus, the weaker the import number, the better it would be for sentiment," he said.
Investors also remain worried about Europe's ability to overcome its chronic debt crisis. Germany's Commerzbank on Thursday predicted lower profits for the rest of the year, a sign that customers are too nervous to invest or take out loans. Greece, meanwhile, reported that unemployment soared to 23 per cent in May from 17 per cent the year before.
Weekly U.S. jobless claims showed the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week. However, the average for the past four weeks, generally a more reliable indicator, rose slightly.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell marginally to 13,165.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose slightly to 1,402.80. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.3 per cent to 3,018.64.
Benchmark oil for September delivery was up 2 cents to $93.38 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract finished 1 cent higher to end at $93.36 per barrel in New York on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro was unchanged at $1.2296. The dollar fell slightly to 78.57 yen from 78.59 yen late Thursday in New York.