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Asia stocks slip amid renewed US-China trade uncertainty; Singapore exports tumble

Eustance Huang

Stocks in Asia mostly slipped on Wednesday following overnight developments on the US-China trade front.

In mainland China, the Shanghai composite closed 0.2% lower at 2,931.69, while the Shenzhen component added 0.2% to finish its trading day at 9,302.00 . The Shenzhen composite also rose 0.162% to close at 1,574.35. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slipped 0.18%, as of its final hour of trading.

Shares of Chinese live-streaming platform DouYu International Holdings were priced at the low end ahead of their public debut on the Nasdaq stateside later on Wednesday. The firm is backed by Chinese tech behemoth Tencent, which saw its own Hong Kong-listed stock rise more than 0.1%.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan fell 0.31% to close at 21,469.18, with shares of index heavyweight and conglomerate Softbank Group dropping 2.35%, while the Topix ended its trading day slightly lower at 1,567.41.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi declined 0.91% to close at 2,072.92, as chipmaker SK Hynix saw its stock fall 1.97%, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.49% to finish its trading day at 6,673.30.

Overall, the MSCI Asia-ex Japan index slipped 0.26%.

Singapore exports tumble

Singapore's exports dropped much more than expected in June, with data on Wednesday showing non-oil domestic exports in June plunging 17.3% year-on-year, widely missing the expected 9.9% contraction by economists in a Reuters poll.

It was also the largest decline since February 2013, when exports dropped 33.2% as compared to the year before, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

The Straits Times index was flat in afternoon trade, while the Singapore dollar weakened 0.21% against the greenback to 1.3610, following levels below 1.356 seen yesterday.

That comes on the back of a decline in Singapore's gross domestic product for the second quarter, which was also well below forecasts. Economists now widely expect Singapore's central bank to ease monetary policy, as its export-reliant economy slows amid the U.S.-China trade war.

Economists at ING wrote in a note that the latest data could result in an "imminent" easing of monetary policy by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in adjusting its exchange rate between the Singapore dollar and a basket of currencies of the country's major trading partners.

US-China trade jitters

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Washington and Beijing have a long way to go on trade, adding that America could place tariffs on an additional $325 billion worth of Chinese goods "if we want."

Trump's comments come after China and the U.S. agreed not to ratchet up trade tensions in an effort to restart negotiations, with the two countries already having slapped billions of dollars worth of tariffs on each other's goods. The protracted trade fight between the two economic powerhouses has raised concerns over its potential impact on economic growth as well as business confidence.

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended its four-day winning streak as it slipped 23.53 points to 27,335.63. The S&P 500 closed 0.3% lower at 3,004.04 and snapped a five-day winning streak, while the Nasdaq Composite shed 0.4% to finish its trading day at 8,222.80.

Meanwhile, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday reiterated his pledge to "act as appropriate" to keep the economic expansion going. His comments come amid expectations that the central bank could cut interest rates at its monetary policy meeting later in July.

However, data on Tuesday showed U.S. retail sales increased more than expected in June, pointing to strong consumer spending, which could help to blunt some of the hit on the economy from weak business investment.

Retail sales advanced 0.4% last month, higher than expectations of a 0.1% increase in June by economists in a Reuters poll.

Oil and currencies

Oil prices saw sharp declines on Tuesday after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran was ready to negotiate regarding its missile program. Tensions between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program have previously lent support to oil futures, given the potential for a price spike should the situation deteriorate.

In the afternoon of Asian trading hours on Wednesday, oil prices were mixed. International benchmark Brent crude futures added 0.45% to $64.64 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures were 0.23% higher at $57.75 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.421, following its rise from levels below 96.9 seen earlier this week.

The Japanese yen traded at 108.17 against the dollar, weakening from levels below 108 touched yesterday. The Australian dollar was at $0.7009 after trading in a range between $0.700 and $0.705 for much of the week.

— Reuters and CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.