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Asian Stocks Edge Past Weak Economic Signals, Chinese Shares Lag

Most Asian stocks rose slightly on Wednesday as markets weighed worsening economic conditions in the region against the prospect of a pause in the Federal Reserve’s rate hike cycle this month. But China’s Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 and Shanghai Composite indexes lagged their peers, reversing early gains after data showed the country’s trade surplus hit its lowest level since April 2022, driven by a sharp drop in exports. A steady decline in imports also raised concerns over just how sustainable an economic rebound in the country will remain this year, as it grapples with slowing overseas demand for Chinese goods. But on the other hand, technology-heavy indexes were key outperformers for the day, benefiting from continued bets that the Fed will pause its rate hike cycle next week. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 1.1%, while the Taiwan Weighted index rose 0.7%, with both bourses buoyed by heavyweight technology stocks. South Korea’s KOSPI added 0.3%. This trend also spurred some gains in broader Asian markets, with India’s Nifty 50 and BSE Sensex 30 indexes rising 0.3% each in early trade. Focus in India is also on a Reserve Bank interest rate decision on Thursday. Still, fears of worsening economic conditions across the globe kept sentiment towards risk-heavy Asian stocks largely muted. Even if the Fed pauses its rate hike cycle next week, markets will still have to contend with rates remaining higher for longer, as well as a potential recession in large portions of the globe. Australia’s ASX 200 lagged its peers for most part, rising 0.2% after data showed that the country’s economy barely grew in the first quarter of 2023, amid pressure from high inflation and interest rates. Major Australian bank stocks were the chief support to the ASX 200, following an interest rate hike by the Reserve Bank on Tuesday. Japan’s Nikkei 225 and TOPIX were the worst performers for the day, down 0.7% and 0.5%, respectively, as they saw a heavy dose of profit taking after racing to 33-year highs in recent sessions. Analysts questioned whether a Japanese stock rally had any legs left, given that markets have largely priced in the factors that powered it- chiefly a dovish Bank of Japan and a strong quarterly earnings season. Markets are now awaiting more cues on the Japanese economy from a revised first-quarter GDP reading, due on Thursday.

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