By Ese Erheriene

Kiwi builder Fletcher tumbles 11%; Hong Kong, Shanghai markets inch higher

Equity markets kicked off the week lacking direction as investors digested news from the G-20 meeting over the weekend, while major U.S. indexes didn't provide much of a lead.

As trading got underway, bearish sentiment reigned and volumes were lighter with Japan away on vacation; cautious investors stayed on the sidelines.

South Korea's Kospi was down 0.6% Monday, while the Taiex in Taiwan slipped 0.3%. Among gainers, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 0.2% and the Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.1%. Japan's Nikkei was down 0.4%.

New Zealand's NZX-50 wasrecently down 1.3% following a profit warning from the country's biggest construction company.

Fletcher Building (FBU.NZ) slumped 11% as it grappled with losses on several construction contracts. The company, which held the second-biggest weighting in the benchmark index, single-handedly removed 25 points from the NZX-50 and looked poised for its biggest decline in 5 1/2 years.

"Fletcher Building had a material downgrade of profit forecasts and the stock has been hammered," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Group. "It's got a big weight on the market."

In other weak spots, retirement-village operator Ryman Healthcare (RYM.NZ) was down 1.8% and the index's biggest component, Auckland International Airport (AIA.NZ) , dropped 2%.

More broadly, markets across the region were softer following the G-20 meeting, where trade issues rose to the top of the agenda, which rattled Asia's large export-driven economies in a climate of growing U.S. protectionism.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a communiqué was issued ensuring the U.S. can still use sanctions or other policy tools to punish trade partners.

"Stocks are slightly weaker," said Andrew Sullivan, managing director of Haitong International Securities. "The concerns are this communiqué from the G-20 and therefore any country that's exporting to the U.S. is probably going to see some weakness."

Elsewhere, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.3%, dragged lower by financial and mining stocks.

Looking ahead, investors will be watching out for the "fireside chats" from various U.S. Federal Reserve officials, who are expected to be more aggressive on the future pace of U.S. rate tightening, Weston said.

"There's a reason central banks raise rates and if it doesn't have the desired effect, they need to do something about it," said Weston.

June is the next meeting where market participants are betting on a rate rise. According to CME Group data, there is a 54.7% probability of another quarter-point increase.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 19, 2017 23:25 ET (03:25 GMT)

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