TOKYO: Asian shares fell Thursday after Wall Street dropped on weaker-than-expected US economic data and a warning from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen that stock valuations were “quite high”.
Tokyo stocks fell 1.23 percent after a three-day holiday. The Nikkei 225 index ended 239.64 points lower at 19,291.99, while the Topix index of all first-section issues was down 0.69 percent, or 10.97 points, to 1,574.64.
Sydney fell for the third straight day, finishing 46.5 points, or 0.82 percent, lower to 5,645.7 as mining stocks slipped despite recent gains in commodity prices.
South Korean shares fell 0.65 percent or 13.58 points to close at 2,091.00 on heavy foreign selling, and Hong Kong ended 1.45 percent lower.
Mainland Chinese markets took a dive on worries regulators may tighten control over margin trading, a practice which allows investors to trade with borrowed money.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission on Thursday initially denied the reports on its official microblog, but later removed the statement.
The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 2.77 percent, or 117.06 points, to 4,112.21 on turnover of 540.2 billion yuan ($88.4 billion).
The Shenzhen Composite Index, which tracks stocks on China´s second exchange, fell 1.15 percent, or 25.41 points, to 2,181.30 on turnover of 427.0 billion yuan.
Fresh US data was relatively weak. Non-farm productivity fell 1.9 percent in the first quarter year-on-year in the second straight quarterly fall.
Payroll firm ADP meanwhile reported the US added just 169,000 private-sector jobs in April, the second month in a row under 200,000, as the oil sector downturn continued to pinch the labour market.
The figures came ahead of Friday´s highly anticipated Labor Department jobs report.
“The US economy was expected to bottom out in March and recover in the second quarter, but so far the figures for April have been poor,” Mitsushige Akino, executive officer at Ichiyoshi Asset Management in Tokyo, said Japanese media.
“Sentiment could sour even more depending on the April payrolls report.
Risk-off moves could intensify if the US economic situation is deemed weak.”
Sentiment also took a hit as Yellen warned that US stock markets were at risk of overheating.
“There are potential dangers there,” she told a conference, but added there was no rapid credit growth and “no signs of a financial bubble.”
“I believe we are better positioned now” to see risks, Yellen added.
The comments helped to dampen investors´ spirits with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 0.48 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 0.45 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index lost 0.40 percent.
Investors were also keeping a close eye on the tense situation in cash-strapped Greece, after the European Union and International Monetary Fund hit back Wednesday at accusations by Athens that internal rifts were blocking a bailout deal.
Oil prices fell in Asia Thursday as dealers fretted over a lower-than-expected drop in US crude production that dimmed hopes of a quick end to a global supply glut, analysts said.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for June delivery fell 35 cents to $60.58 while Brent crude for June eased 36 cents to $67.41 in afternoon trade.
In currency markets, the dollar notched up modest gains after dropping sharply in New York on the weak US data, which raised more questions about whether a Fed interest rate hike would be pushed back.
In Tokyo afternoon trading, the greenback fetched 119.49 yen, slightly up from 119.44 yen in New York.
The euro was mixed at $1.1343 and 135.60 yen, compared with $1.1348 and 135.54 yen in US trade, as traders keep a close eye on tense Greek bailout talks.