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Equities

Nikkei Asia300 Index falls as worries over US trade policies intensify

Steel makers among key losers

MUMBAI (NewsRise) -- Asian stocks outside of Japan declined Wednesday as resignation of a top White House economic aide heightened worries over U.S. trade policies.

The Nikkei Asia300 Index declined 0.6% to 1,425.02. Taiwan-listed China Steel and South Korea's Hyundai Steel declined at least 0.8% each, and India's Tata Steel lost 1.9% amid increasing likelihood that President Donald Trump will go ahead with his proposal to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. India's biggest aluminum producer Hindalco Industries slipped 0.8%.

News related to U.S. trade policies continued to dictate markets as investors debated whether Trump would follow through on last week's tariff proposals. The odds of that happening climbed after Gary Cohn's resignation, sending U.S. index futures and markets across Europe and Asia lower. Cohn was Trump's top economic advisor and was reportedly opposed to the tariff plans.

"His resignation increases the risk tenfold that President Trump will follow through with far-reaching trade tariffs considering that Cohn was said to be working on convincing Trump to reverse his trade policy views, or at least temper them," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading for broker Oanda.

A Bloomberg report, citing people familiar with the matter, that the U.S. is considering tariffs for a broad range of imports aimed at China added to the uncertain tone.

Index heavyweights Hong Kong-listed Tencent Holdings and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing were among biggest contributors to Wednesday's losses on the A300, declining by 1% or more.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's central bank left its benchmark rate unchanged as expected. Bank Negara Malaysia, which had raised rates by 25 basis points at its previous meeting in January, said on Wednesday that it expects growth to remain robust this year and sees inflation averaging lower in 2018, helped by an expected muted effect from global cost factors and a stronger ringgit. The nation's banks ended mostly lower, in-line with the weak broad sentiment. CIMB Group declined 0.7% and Public Bank edged 0.3% lower.

In country indexes complied by Nikkei, Hong Kong tumbled 1.6%, China lost 1%, Taiwan declined 0.5%, and India slipped 0.7%. South Korea closed 0.7% higher.

The Nikkei Asia300 ASEAN Index of Southeast Asian companies lost 0.8%.

--Nimesh Vora

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