South Korean shares trimmed earlier losses but closed in a negative territory for the first time in three sessions on Tuesday as foreigners turned into net sellers due to downbeat economic indicators from the world's top two economies.
The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) slid 4. 30 points, or 0.22 percent, to close at 1,941.25. Trading volume stood at 222.62 million shares worth 3.73 trillion won (3.46 billion U.S. dollars).
Manufacturing activity in the United States and China contracted, raising worries about lack of momentum in the global economy.
The flash HSBC/Markit purchasing managers'index (PMI) for U.S. manufacturers fell to 55.5 in March from 57.1 in February, missing market expectations of 56.5. The financial data provider Markit said that manufacturing business conditions in the United States continued to improve at the end of the first quarter.
The preliminary manufacturing PMI for China declined for a third month to an eight-month low of 48.1 in March, but it promoted speculations that China may unveil fresh stimulus.
Foreign investors sold shares worth 87 billion won after buying shares the previous day. Retail investors offloaded stocks worth 11.2 billion won, but institutional investors bought a net 81.6 billion won worth of shares, limiting the KOSPI's further decline.
Large-cap shares ended mixed. Market bellwether Samsung Electronics retreated more than 2 percent, and top automaker Hyundai Motor slid 1.3 percent. The nation's No.1 web search engine NAVER plunged 5 percent amid foreign selling, and top wireless carrier SK Telecom lost 0.5 percent.
The nation's biggest auto parts maker Hyundai Mobis gained 1 percent, and top steelmaker POSCO climbed 1.4 percent. The state- run power supplier Korea Electric Power Corp. rose 1.1 percent, and leading chemical firm LG Chem jumped 2.4 percent.
The South Korean currency finished at 1,079.4 won against the greenback, down 1.6 won from Monday's close.
Bond prices ended higher. The yield on the liquid three-year treasury notes fell 0.01 percentage point to 2.87 percent, and the return on the benchmark 10-year government bonds slid 0.02 percentage point to 3.54 percent.