Asian shares fall on global growth worries

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Asian shares fell on Friday and growth-linked currencies such as the Australian dollar were shunned after data showing shrinking factory activity in China and the euro zone heightened concerns about a slowdown in the global economy.

Materials stocks such as miner BHP Billiton led the losses on growth concerns, but crude oil steadied after tumbling overnight and copper bounced off a 2-week low.

Data on Thursday showed China's manufacturing sector activity shrank in March for a fifth successive month, while German and French manufacturing suffered a sharp decline that even the most pessimistic economists failed to predict.

"Fears of a Chinese hard landing are on the rise; overdone we think," said Vincent Chaigneau, strategist at Societe Generale. "Concerns over Europe are burgeoning again, rightly so given the weak economy and the toxic focus on enlarging the firewall."

Tokyo's Nikkei share average fell 1 per cent and MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.4 percent, on track for a weekly loss of around 2 per cent.

The weak data from continental Europe's two biggest economies suggested the euro zone cannot avoid recession, while in China a senior government economist said the economy was facing more downward pressure than expected.

Whilst a slowdown in Europe and China has been expected, investors were unnerved by the drop in new orders in both regions, which fuelled concerns that an unexpectedly severe downturn could snuff out the global recovery.

SLOWER GROWTH
Fears of slower growth in key markets hurt big Japanese exporters, with Toyota Motor Corp down 1.4 per cent, Honda Motor off 2 per cent and Sony Corp losing 2.3 per cent.

However, market participants said the sell-off offered buying opportunities for longer-term investors as they remained upbeat on the outlook of Japanese equities, among the best performers of 2012 with a year-to-date gain of 20 per cent.

Wall Street stocks fell 0.7 per cent on Thursday and U.S. crude slid almost $2 a barrel.

The growth jitters, which have been gnawing at market confidence since China lowered its official 2012 growth target to 7.5 per cent in mid-March, have for the time being halted a rally in riskier assets driven by steadily improving U.S. data and massive injections of liquidity from major central banks.

Rising risk aversion prompted investors to seek safety in the yen, which rose more than 1 percent against the dollar on Thursday.

The yen eased back a touch on Friday to around 82.90, while the dollar was flat against a basket of major currencies. The Aussie struggled at around $1.0390.

Oil edged up around 25 cents a barrel, with Brent crude fetching around $123.39 and U.S. crude about $105.60.

"The macroeconomic picture is getting better, especially in the U.S., and that's helping oil prices," said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity derivatives manager at Newedge Brokerage in Tokyo.

"But the recovery is very slow and there's still a lot of uncertainty regarding China and Europe."

Growth sensitive copper bounced off a 2 per cent drop in the previous session, with London prices gaining around 0.7 per cent to $8,350 a tonne but still on course for a weekly loss. Gold was little changed around $1,645 an ounce.

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