RTTNews - The Hong Kong stock market has ended lower in two of three sessions since the end of the seven-day winning streak in which it collected almost 2,900 points or 20 percent on its way to a fresh seven-month closing high. The Hang Seng Index maintained support at the 17,000-point plateau, but analysts are predicting a sharp pullback at the opening of trade on Thursday.

The global forecast for the Asian markets is laced with pessimism as sentiment plummeted on weaker than expected economic data out of the United States, as well as mixed corporate news. The European markets finished sharply lower, as did the U.S. markets - and the Asian markets are forecast to also move significantly lower.

The Hang Seng finished modestly lower on Wednesday, as the financial shares finished under heavy selling pressure throughout the session.

For the day, the index dropped 94.02 points or 0.55 percent to close at 17,059.62 after trading between 17,014.86 and 17,372.15 on turnover of 146.624 billion Hong Kong dollars.

Among the decliners, HSBC ended 3.27 percent lower, while China Construction Bank fell 3.82 percent, PetroChina slipped 3.57 percent, Bank of China lost 0.68 percent, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China shed 0.64 percent, China CITIC Bank was down 1.71 percent, Bank of Communications fell 1.27 percent, Hang Seng Bank eased 0.97 percent, China Southern Airlines lost 1.08 percent and Cathay Pacific Airways slid 1.09 percent.

Finishing higher, CNOOC ended 5.47 percent higher, while Sinopec rose 1.95 percent, China COSCO Holdings rose 3.37 percent, China Shipping Development added 1.56 percent, China Merchants Bank rose 4.71 percent, Air China rose 0.78 percent and China Eastern Airlines was up 0.74 percent.

The lead from Wall Street is broadly negative as stocks saw substantial weakness during trading on Wednesday, as disappointing retail sales offset some of the recent optimism about the outlook for the economy. The major averages all moved sharply lower after ending the previous session mixed.

The weakness in the markets came after a report from the Commerce Department showed that retail sales unexpectedly fell for the second consecutive month in April after showing back-to-back increases in the first two months of the year. The report showed that retail sales fell 0.4 percent in April following a revised 1.3 percent decrease in March. Economists had expected sales to come in unchanged compared to the 1.2 percent decrease originally reported for the previous month.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed a continued decrease in business inventories in the month of March. The report showed that business inventories fell 1.0 percent in March following a revised 1.4 percent decrease in February.

Meanwhile, shares of Intel (INTC) ended the day modestly lower after the European Commission fined the semiconductor giant a record 1.06 billion euros for allegedly abusing its dominant position on the market for computer chips known as x86 central processing units. Intel president and CEO, Paul Otellini said the company takes strong exception to the decision, arguing that it ignores the reality of a highly competitive microprocessor marketplace. Otellini added that Intel would appeal the decision.

On the earnings front, department store operator Macy's (M) reported a first quarter adjusted loss that came in narrower than analysts had been expecting. Nonetheless, shares of Macy's fell 6.7 percent, as the weak sales data weight on the retail sector.

In other news, American International Group CEO Edward Liddy appeared before lawmakers, attempting to defend the steps the beleaguered insurer has taken to reduce the risks it poses to the financial system.

The major averages all closed firmly negative, with the NASDAQ ending the session at its worst level of the day. The Dow fell 184.22 points or 2.2 percent to 8,284.89, the NASDAQ closed down 51.73 points or 3 percent at 1,664.19 and the S&P 500 fell 24.43 points or 2.7 percent to 883.92.

In economic news, industrial production in China was up 7.3 percent on year in April, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday - below forecasts for an 8.6 percent expansion following the 8.3 percent gain in March. For the period of January through April, industrial output was up 5.5 percent on year. Through the first three months of the year, output had been higher by an annual 5.1 percent.

Also, the NBS also said that retail sales were up 14.8 percent on year in April to 934.32 billion yuan, slightly better than forecasts for a 14.7 percent annual gain. Through the first four months of the year, retail sales were up 15 percent to 3.874 trillion yuan.

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