Asian stocks fall, Tokyo plunges 3.72% to a six-week low

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian stocks fell on Monday, with Tokyo plunging 3.72 per cent to a six-week low after downbeat Chinese manufacturing data and a sharp drop on Wall Street last week.

Eyes were also turning towards a series of key US economic statistics due later in the week, and a policy meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Tokyo, which fell more than five per cent last week, was down 512.72 points at 13,261.82, continuing volatile trading that has seen a series of sharp drops.

"Japanese shares are still in the middle of adjustment following the recent surge," Mr Kenzaburo Suwa, strategist with Okasan Securities, told AFP.

"The market is trying to find a short-term bottom, which has yet to be seen."

Some analysts have been predicting a sharp correction in the Nikkei, which had surged about 80 per cent over the past six months to climb above the 15,000 level before the recent downturn.

Seoul fell 0.57 per cent, or 11.48 points, to close at 1,989.57, and Sydney dropped 0.78 per cent, or 38.3 points, to end at 4,888.3.

Shanghai ended flat, edging down 0.06 per cent, or 1.34 points, to 2,299.25, and Hong Kong dropped 0.49 per cent, or 109.97 points to 22,282.19.

The falls came after conflicting manufacturing data from China, the world's second-largest economy, with HSBC saying on Monday that activity fell to an eight-month low in May.

The British banking giant's final purchasing managers' index (PMI) reading for May came in at 49.2, worse than the preliminary 49.6 announced on May 23.

A reading below 50 indicates contraction in the sector.

The result was in sharp contrast to the Chinese government's PMI result for May, which came in at 50.8, better than April's 50.6, the National Bureau of Statistics said Saturday.

European stock markets opened lower on Monday, with London's FTSE 100 index of leading shares dropping 0.51 per cent to stand at 6,549.60.

At a financial conference in Shanghai, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi earlier predicted a "very gradual recovery" in the crisis-hit eurozone starting later this year despite lingering "vulnerabilities".

The bank is due to announce updated eurozone forecasts for growth and inflation later in the week, as it meets to discuss options for stimulating the recession-hit economy following a recent cut in interest rates.

"The economic situation in the euro area remains challenging but there are a few signs of a possible stabilisation, and our baseline scenario continues to be one of a very gradual recovery starting in the latter part of this year," Mr Draghi said.

US stocks tumbled last Friday, accelerating their losses after a flurry of mixed indicators sparked volatile trade, with consumer spending down but shoppers' confidence climbing.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 1.36 per cent to 15,115.57, with the "fear index" measuring market volatility finishing at its highest level since mid-April.

The Commerce Department reported consumer spending dropped by 0.2 per cent in April, but there was also a jump in the Chicago area PMI index and a positive outlook in the University of Michigan consumer confidence barometer.

US manufacturing data is due out later in the day, and a stronger-than-forecast reading could stoke fears the Federal Reserve will soon taper off massive stimulus measures.

Another indicator of health in the world's largest economy, US non-farm payrolls data for May, is due out Friday.

In other markets: Manila plunged 3.68 per cent, or 258.57 points, to close at 6,763.38.

Taipei dropped 0.65 per cent, or 53.78 points, to 8201.02.

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