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Asian shares slip

Hong Kong: Asian markets slumped on Thursday, as China manufacturing data showed the world's second-largest economy losing strength and Japan logged its worst-ever January trade deficit.

HSBC's preliminary reading for its purchasing managers' index (PMI), which tracks manufacturing activity in China's factories and workshops, contracted in February to its lowest level in seven months.

The index, a closely-watched gauge of the health of the Asian economic powerhouse, also tumbled in January, losing ground for the first time in six months.

The outcome hit currency markets, with traders moving into the yen which sank to 101.87 in Tokyo from 102.31 yen on Wednesday in New York. The euro weakened to 140.18 yen from 140.51 yen in US trade, while it rose to $1.3780 from $1.3734.

Tokyo shares slumped 2.15 per cent, or 317.35 points, to finish at 14,449.18 after the January trade deficit swelled on the back of surging imports. Seoul's main index lost 0.64 per cent, 12.36 points, to 1,930.57.

Hong Kong lost 1.19 per cent, or 270.44 points, to 22,394.08 while Sydney barely edged up, gaining 4.1 points to 5,412.3.

Chinese shares also lost ground, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ending down 0.18 per cent, or 3.77 points, to 2,138.78. The Shenzhen Composite Index, which tracks stocks on China's second exchange, fell 1.55 per cent, or 17.93 points, to 1,139.27.

Also weighing on regional bourses was a negative session on Wall Street Wednesday after news that some US Federal Reserve policymakers had sought an early hike in the Fed's benchmark interest rate.

And new data showed US home construction and building permits plunged more than expected in January due to severe winter weather in much of the country.

Oil was down in Asian trade. New York's main contract, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March dropped 24 cents to $103.07 in afternoon trade, while Brent North Sea crude eased 55 cents to $109.92 for its April delivery.

Gold fetched $1,314.30 an ounce at 1117 GMT from $1,318.37 late Wednesday.

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