By ALEX KENNEDY, Associated Press
SINGAPORE (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly lower Tuesday amid concerns that Chinese economic growth could slow more than expected this year.
Trading volume was low because Japan's markets were closed for a national holiday.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.4 percent to 21,021.93 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.3 percent to 2,040.16. Australia's S&P ASX/200 shed 0.4 percent and China's Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.8 percent at 2,391.97.
Benchmark stock indexes in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand all rose.
Stocks in Asia leapt higher in the first two months of the year as an improving U.S. economy bolstered investor confidence. But China's announcement earlier this month that it had lowered its economic growth target to 7.5 percent from 8 percent has spooked investors.
In another sign of cooling growth in the world's No. 2 economy, new home prices dropped in 45 Chinese cities in February as the government implemented measures to cool property speculation.
The rising cost of crude is also a threat to the global economic outlook as it could spark inflation and hurt consumer spending. On Tuesday, China raised the price of retail gasoline for the second time in two months.
"The worries over lower growth and inflation risks with oil prices moving up have led to this pause," said Lorraine Tan, director of Asian equities research for Standard & Poor's in Singapore. "What we're seeing now is a needed breather because stocks have run up a fair bit."
Investors are also concerned about weaker than expected corporate earnings in Asia. With 75 percent of companies having reported fourth quarter results so far, 45 percent have missed analysts' estimates while only 17 percent have beat them, Citigroup said in a report.
"The bears are all over this as a reason for caution," Citigroup said. "We would be much more worried about the result season if sales had disappointed but they have not. The path of least resistance is still up."
The Dow Jones industrial average rose less than 0.1 percent to 13,239.13 on Monday while the Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.4 percent to 1,409.75, its highest close since May 20, 2008.
Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 67 cents to $107.42 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.03 to settle at $108.09 per barrel on Monday.
In currency trading, the euro was steady at $1.3227 while the dollar rose to 83.44 yen from 83.39 yen late Monday in New York.
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