Asian shares turned in a mixed performance on Monday, as manufacturing data from China offered a mixed snapshot of the nation's economy and investors adopted a cautious approach ahead of holidays this week.
An official survey of Chinese manufacturing released on Sunday showed manufacturing activity gained momentum in March, with the corresponding PMI rising 2.1 points to 53.1 in the month, up from February's 51.0 and January's 50.5, helping dispel lingering fears of a Chinese hard landing.
In contrast, the HSBC's flash manufacturing, the unofficial reading of China's PMI which tends to reflect trends in the export sector more strongly than the official index, showed manufacturing contracting and export orders falling.
South Korea's manufacturing PMI improved to 52.0 in March from 50.7 and Taiwan's manufacturing PMI improved to 54.7 from 52.7, while the expansion of India's factory sector slowed for the third month in March, separate surveys showed. The benchmark oil stayed largely unchanged near $103 a barrel, while the yen fell against the dollar and euro.
Japanese shares snapped a three-day losing streak, as the yen weakened against other major currencies and news that EU finance ministers agreed to increase the funds available for future bailouts bolstered sentiment. Stronger-than-forecast U.S. consumer sentiment data as well as Chinese manufacturing data helped lift export-related such as Fanuc Corp. and Hitachi Construction Machinery up 2-3 percent, while financials like Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group jumped 3.4 percent on expectations for robust earnings.
The Nikkei Stock Average rose 0.3 percent, while the Topix index of all Tokyo Stock Exchange First Section issues ended up 0.2 percent. The Bank of Japan's quarterly "tankan" business survey released just before the market open, which showed no change in business sentiment among large manufacturers in the March quarter, raised expectations of further monetary easing by the Bank of Japan ahead of next week's policy meeting.
The Chinese market was shut for a three-day public holiday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 0.2 percent, extending declines for a fourth consecutive session, on speculation that policymakers will probably maintain lending curbs after a government report showed China's purchasing managers' index climbed to a one-year high of 53.1 in March, exceeding economists' estimates.
Australian shares eased slightly, as banks edged lower, offsetting gains in miners following improved Chinese manufacturing data. Both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries indexes erased their early gains to end down about 0.1 percent each. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company whose fortunes are tied to China's economic growth and consumer demand, rose 1.5 percent, Rio Tinto added 1.2 percent and smaller rival Fortescue rallied 2.4 percent.
The big four banks, Commonwealth, NAB, Westpac and ANZ shed between 0.3 percent and 0.9 percent, spooked by weaker-than-expected building approvals and manufacturing data ahead of the Reserve Bank of Australia's rate-setting meeting tomorrow. Retail stocks also lost ground, with Woolworths, JB Hi-Fi and Myer falling 1-3 percent, while oil & gas firm Woodside gained 1.6 percent and Oil Search closed up a percent.
Australia's manufacturing activity contracted in March, pressured by a stronger currency and weak domestic demand, a private survey showed. The Australian Industry Group/PriceWaterhouseCoopers Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index (PMI) fell 1.8 index points to 49.5 in the month after three months of growth.
Approvals for new homes, meanwhile, slumped a seasonally adjusted 7.8 per cent in February from the previous month, data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed, marking the steepest fall in approvals since November last year.
South Korea's Kospi average finished 0.8 percent higher, as investors cheered surprisingly strong Chinese factory activity data and an upgraded outlook on the nation's sovereign credit rating. Financial stocks paced the gains, with Woori Finance Holdings and Hana Financial Group climbing 4-5 percent.
Moody's Investors Service on Monday upgraded its outlook on South Korea's sovereign credit rating to "positive" from "stable," citing the country's improving fiscal fundamentals, better external financing conditions, a reduction in the banking sector's external vulnerability and a relatively strong gross domestic product growth trend over the medium term," the finance ministry said.
New Zealand shares fell, with the benchmark NZX-50 giving up initial gains to finish half a percent lower. Chorus, the network company spun off from Telecom in November, tumbled 2.4 percent from a record high, while shares of Telecom ended up a percent.
Fletcher Building, the nation's largest constriction firm, lost 1.6 percent, utility Contact Energy fell 1.7 percent and casino operator Sky City Entertainment Group shed 2.5 percent. Retailers ended mixed, with Pumpkin Patch losing a percent, while Hallenstein Glasson Holdings rose 0.8 percent and Kathmandu jumped 4.4 percent.
Elsewhere, India's benchmark Sensex was last trading up 0.4 percent, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite was gaining 1.1 percent, Singapore's Straits Times rose 0.2 percent and Malaysia's KLSE Composite added half a percent, while the Taiwan Weighted average lost 0.9 percent.
On Wall Street, stocks turned in a mixed performance on Friday, as traders digested conflicting economic reports on personal income, spending and regional manufacturing. The Dow rose half a percent and the S&P 500 gained 0.4 percent, but the tech-heavy Nasdaq slipped 0.1 percent.
by RTT Staff Writer
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