Asian stock markets drop as China growth slows

SEOUL (AP) - Asian stock markets sank on Monday as China's slower-than-expected economic growth and disappointing US retail sales weighed on investor sentiment.

The world's second-largest economy expanded 7.7 per cent over a year earlier in the first quarter, slowing from the previous quarter's 7.9 per cent and falling short of expectations that growth would accelerate to 8 per cent.

The report stirred up worries about the strength of China's shaky recovery that has been supported by government spending.

Japan's Nikkei 225 retreated 1.3 per cent to 13,314.79, falling for a second straight trading day after a series of gains. The Bank of Japan's aggressive monetary easing to lift borrowing and spending drove Japanese stocks to their highest close in nearly four years last week.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.5 per cent to 21,753.05. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 declined 1.3 per cent to 4,947.40 and China's Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.9 per cent to 2,186.46.

South Korea's benchmark index narrowed its losses amid expectations that policymakers in major economies may put pressure on Japan to halt the yen's slide, which has hurt South Korean exporters. The Kospi dropped 0.2 per cent to 1,920.69.

"China's first-quarter growth results were not as good as expected but the impact was short-lived as other events are coming up later this week," said Mr Kwak Joong-bo, a market analyst at Samsung Securities Co. in Seoul.

"Expectations that there will be talks about stopping devaluation of the yen during the G-20 meeting helped the US dollar fall against the yen."

Central bankers and finance ministers from the Group of 20 major industrialised and developing nations are scheduled to gather in Washington on Thursday for a two-day meeting.

Also watched by investors this week are quarterly earnings results from US companies and developments on the Korean Peninsula where tensions remain high with near daily threats from North Korea.

Its war rumblings have so far not been a major factor in global financial markets. The North's neighbors are worried about a possible missile test.

The drop in Asian markets comes after shares in the US and Europe declined on Friday following sluggish US retail sales and mixed earnings reports.

The Commerce Department said retail sales fell 0.4 per cent in March from the previous month, reinforcing view that the US recovery is losing some steam.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down US$2.53 to US$88.77 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The euro fell to US$1.30748 from US$1.3111 and the dollar fell to 97.85 yen from 98.19 yen.