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Oil falls more than 4% in mixed Asia session; data shows contraction in China manufacturing activity

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SINGAPORE — Shares in Asia-Pacific were mixed in Thursday morning trade as oil prices fell sharply.

In the morning of Asia trading hours, international benchmark Brent crude futures fell 3.92% to $109 per barrel. U.S. crude futures dropped 4.62% to $102.84 per barrel.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is considering a plan to release 1 million barrels of oil per day from the strategic petroleum reserve for about six months, a source told NBC News. Global oil prices have spiked in volatile trade since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a month ago.

In the broader Asia-Pacific markets, mainland Chinese stocks declined in morning trade as the Shanghai composite shed 0.26% while the Shenzhen component slipped 0.652%.

Chinese factory activity shrunk in March, according to official data released Thursday. The country’s official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for March came in at 49.5, lower than February’s reading of 50.2.

The 50-point mark in PMI readings separates growth from contraction. PMI readings are sequential and represent month-on-month expansion or contraction.

The data comes after an independent survey by China Beige Book showed China’s factories were hit harder in the first quarter than last year. In recent weeks, China has also been battling its most severe Covid-19 outbreak since the pandemic began.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also fell 0.59%. Shares of Baidu in the city tumbled more than 4% after the firm was added to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission list of companies potentially facing delisting from U.S. exchanges.

Elsewhere, the Nikkei 225 in Japan was near flat while the Topix index sat little changed. South Korea’s Kospi climbed 0.48%.

Meanwhile, the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia gained 0.39%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan traded around 0.15% lower.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.767 as it struggles to recover after dropping from levels above 99 earlier in the week.

The Japanese yen traded at 122.23 per dollar, still stronger than levels above 124 seen against the greenback earlier this week. The Australian dollar was at $0.7505, having largely traded in a range between $0.747 and $0.753 so far this week.

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