Most Asian stock benchmarks fell on Thursday as weak Chinese data revived worries about a steep slowdown in growth in the world's second-largest economy.
September exports tumbled 10% on the year in dollar terms, much worse than the median 3.3% decline analysts polled by Bloomberg had predicted. Imports fell 1.9%, compared with the 0.6% growth expected, giving no reassurance that domestic consumption is picking up the slack created by weaker global demand. In August imports had risen for the first time in almost two years.
The dollar-denominated trade surplus narrowed to just under $42 billion from $52 billion.
Capital Economics' Julian Evans-Pritchard noted that the imports decline pointed to a drop in key commodities, including iron ore and copper. "This could be an early sign that the recent recovery in economic activity is losing momentum, although we would caution against reading too much into a single data point given the volatility of the trade figures," he said.
The Chinese government is targeting GDP growth of 6.5% to 7% this year, after 6.9% growth last year. In the second quarter, the economy escaped the expected slowdown to expand at an unchanged rate of 6.7%.
U.S. stock futures were down sharply, with the Dow Jones mini down 0.61, the S&P 500 mini down 0.67% and the Nasdaq 100 mini down 0.68%.
The Hang Seng was down in Hong Kong by 1.24% at 23,115.80, while the Nikkei 225 fell 0.39% to 16,774.24. The Topix ended the day down 0.04 point at 1,342.31.
The Australian dollar fell in the wake of the trade data and was recently down 0.37% against the dollar at $0.7534.
But mainland Chinese indices crept higher. The CSI 300 composite index was recently up 0.04% at 3,301.27.
Brent crude slipped 0.75% to $51.42 a barrel.
Spot gold was up 0.48% at $1,261.31 an ounce.
The 10-year Australian government bond yield was down 6 basis points at 2.24% after a sale of 30-year bonds yesterday pushed yields higher.
In Seoul Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) was up 1.1% after yesterday's third-quarter profit warning following its decision to scrap the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.
In Sydney legal services company Slater & Gordon pledged to fight a class action investor lawsuit related to its disastrous acquisition last year of the professional services unit of the-then Quindell plc for £637 million ($775.5 million). About 3,000 shareholders are seeking A$250 million ($188.3 million) in compensation. Slater & Gordon shares held steady. They've fallen 87% in the past year.
Spread betting group IG is expecting the FTSE 100 to open down 20 points from its close of 7,024.01 on Wednesday, the DAX down 6 points from 10,523.07 and the CAC 40 down 22 from 4,452.24.