Asian Manufacturing Weakens

China's manufacturing sector declined for a seventh consecutive month in February but the contraction slowed from previous months.

Plunging Japanese car sales and a record drop in South Korea's industrial output underlined the ravaging impact of the global financial crisis on March 2, as concerns pummelled stocks.

In Japan, industry data showed sales of new cars, trucks and buses plunged 32.4% in February compared to a year earlier in a sector battered by a steep decline in spending, with consumers opting to save amid the downturn.

The seventh straight-month decline comes as Asia's biggest economy endures its worst recession in decades.

Fears that South Korea is slipping into recession faster than expected were deepened by official figures showing industrial output tumbled at the sharpest rate on record in January. "The data reflects a continued economic downturn," said Yoon Myung-Jun of the National Statistical Office (NSO), attributing the decline to reduced automobile and electrical component production. The NSO said production in mining and manufacturing shrank 25.6% in January from a year earlier compared with a revised 18.7% year-on-year decline in December. It is the biggest contraction since the data were first compiled in January 1970.

In Shanghai, Deputy Commerce Minister Zhong Shan warned that the financial crisis had not bottomed out yet and that China's foreign trade in 2009 would face "a severe situation," state media reported.

Independent brokerage CLSA said activity in China's manufacturing sector declined for a seventh consecutive month in February but that the contraction slowed from previous months.

The gloomy news saw Asian stocks fall on the back of Wall Street's dive to its lowest levels in about 12 years on Feb. 27. Japan's Nikkei stock index tumbled 3.81%, South Korean shares closed 4.2% lower and Hong Kong shares ended a gruelling morning session down 3.8%.

The sell-off followed figures showing the U.S. economy suffered a 6.2% drop in activity in the fourth quarter while the eurozone shed 250,000 jobs in January.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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