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Nikkei Markets

Asian stocks edge higher even as growth concerns loom

Lenders help Singapore's Straits Times Index outperform region, while financials buoy India

HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian stocks outside of Japan rose Monday, led by gains for equities in Singapore and India, even as investors weighed the outlook for global growth amid a spate of weaker-than-expected economic data from the region.

The Nikkei Asia300 Index added 0.3% to 1,210.87 after a 0.7% decline last week following weaker-than-expected retail sales and industrial output data from China. The numbers, released at a time when the U.S. and China have temporarily put on hold further increases in tariffs, fueled concerns of a slowdown in Asia's largest economy.

Markets are watching the U.S. Federal Reserve's final policy review for 2018 this week, where the central bank is widely expected to raise rates for a fourth time this year. Comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will be of interest to participants as the outlook for next year's monetary policy remains uncertain.

"Powell is likely to be faced with many questions about the threat of a U.S. economic slowdown. Investors need to be reading between the lines to understand what the Fed's position is at this stage," Hussein Sayed, the chief market strategist at FXTM, wrote in a note. "The statement needs to be more balanced between slight optimism and a willingness to react fast, in case recession fears materialize."

Meanwhile, South Korea's benchmark Kospi edged 0.1% higher even as Asia's fourth-largest economy cut its economic growth outlook, saying it expects annual growth of between 2.6% and 2.7% this year and the next. In July, the nation had forecast growth of 2.9% for this year and 2.8% for 2019.

Singapore's benchmark Straits Times Index added 1.2% on Monday, driven by gains for heavyweight lenders, even as data showed an unexpected decline in the city-state's non-oil exports for last month.

DBS Group Holdings, Singapore's largest lender, added 1.1%, while United Overseas Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. advanced 2.6% and 2%, respectively.

Hospital operator IHH Healthcare fell 0.9% in Kuala Lumpur after saying it will not be able to proceed with an open offer for its 26% stake in India's Fortis Healthcare until further notice from the south Asian country's top court and capital markets regulator.

Utilities major Tenaga Nasional shed 2.6% after saying it plans to keep its average electricity base tariff at 39.45 sen (9.4 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour for Jan. 1 to June 30 for domestic customers, unchanged from the second half of 2018.

In Hong Kong, Chinese airlines retreated despite reporting year-on-year improvements in number of passengers carried.

Air China fell 2.8% even as November passengers increased 4% from a year earlier. China Eastern Airlines declined 2.1% in spite of an estimated 7.1% increase in passengers carried last month. China Southern Airlines, which reported a 7.4% gain in passenger numbers last month, lost 1.3%.

India's benchmark BSE Sensex climbed 0.9%, its fifth consecutive day higher. Mortgage lending heavyweight Housing Development Finance Corp. and lender ICICI Bank added 2.9% and 1.7%, respectively.

--Suzannah Benjamin

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