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Asia Shares at 3-Month Lows; China Fears Weigh
Feb 2,2010 08:41CST
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SINGAPORE, Feb. 2 -- Asian stocks fell to three-month lows on Monday with investors cautious after new data strengthened the case for tighter Chinese monetary policy and as attention focused on key US economic reports due this week.

Many of Asia's stock markets lost ground on Monday, rattled by US losses last week, while Japan's Nikkei stock average ended flat.

Also high on investor radar screens has been China, where a pair of business surveys on Monday underlined the mounting challenge policymakers face to curb inflation in the world's third-largest economy.

An index based on an official survey of purchasing managers last month eased from a 20-month high in December but remained firmly in expansionary territory, while an index derived from a companion poll by HSBC scaled an all-time high.

"Industrial activity continues to accelerate, implying stronger GDP growth in the first quarter. But rising input and output prices also point to greater inflationary pressure, which will likely prompt more tightening measures in the coming months," said Qu Hongbin, chief economist for China at HSBC.

The Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.6 percent but Hong Kong's Hang Seng index managed to recoup early losses.

"A correction in Asia is healthy, definitely. Prices have moved ahead quite well," said Alex Boggis, fund manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, which oversees about $240 billion in investments.

"Obviously over the last year markets have moved ahead quite strongly based on ... a dramatically improving environment. But has it really dramatically improved?"

Oil prices steadied below $73 a barrel on Monday, pausing from the previous session's 1 percent decline which came as concerns about sluggish energy demand outweighed stronger-than-expected US economic data.

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