Asian stocks swung between gains and losses on Friday as investors digested mixed economic data and looked ahead to the U.S. monthly jobs report due later in the global day, especially after reports on ADP private payrolls and jobless claims sent mixed signals on the health of the world's largest economy.
Japanese stocks rose for a fourth straight session to end at a fresh 33-month high. The Nikkei average rose half a percent, led by automakers bolstered by the yen's weakness and receding concerns over the global economy. The broader Topix index advanced 0.3 percent.
Automakers Suzuki Motor, Toyota Motor and Fuji Heavy Industries rallied 2-4 percent, heavyweight Softbank, which doubled its net profit in the last quarter, jumped 5.7 percent, Japan Tobacco climbed 4 percent after raising its full-year profit guidance and NEC soared 8.5 percent on returning to a net profit in the October-December quarter.
TDK slumped 6.8 percent after slashing its full-year guidance. Toshiba fell 2.7 percent as it posted a weaker-than-expected rise in operating profit for the third quarter. In economic news, Japan's jobless rate edged up to 4.2 percent in December, government data showed, missing forecasts for 4.1 percent.
China's Shanghai Composite index rallied 1.4 percent after a report from the National Bureau of Statistics and the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing showed the official PMI measuring China's manufacturing sector performance stood at 50.4 in January, down slightly from 50.6 in the previous month although marking the fourth month of expansion in a row. Another survey by Markit Economics showed that China's manufacturing activity expanded at a faster pace than initially estimated.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index edged down 0.03 percent, as mainland property developers came under selling pressure following reports China will postpone the expansion of a program to implement a property tax beyond the current pilot cities.
Australian shares rose to a 22-month high, with miners leading the gainers after iron ore prices hit a two-week high. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.9 percent to its highest level since April 11, 2011. Global miner BHP Billiton added 1.2 percent, Rio Tinto rose 1.3 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group advanced 2.4 percent.
Lender NAB rallied 2.3 percent on a brokerage upgrade ahead of its results, while ANZ, Commonwealth and Westpac rose between 0.6 percent and 0.9 percent on reports that the crunch on bank margins may be easing. High-yield stock Telstra gained 1.1 percent and Karoon Gas Australia rallied 3.4 percent on announcing an oil discovery in offshore Brazil, while shares of Linc Energy plunged 11.5 percent after the company updated its outlook for oil and gas production.
Seoul stocks fell modestly as foreign funds continued their selling spree and conflicting signals on the health of the Chinese economy increased concerns about the pace of global economic recovery. The benchmark Kospi average slipped 0.2 percent. Builder Doosan Engineering & Construction slumped 11 percent on equity dilution worries, while automaker Hyundai Motor added a percent and its affiliate Kia Motors edged up 0.6 percent.
New Zealand stocks slid slightly, mirroring mixed regional cues. The benchmark NZX-50 index slipped 0.2 percent. Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, fell 1.3 percent on profit taking after hitting a five-year high the day before, while rural services firm PGG Wrightson lost 2.3 percent. Kathmandu Holdings soared 4.1 percent after the outdoor equipment retailer raised its first-half profit forecast by as much as 75 percent over the previous year.
The kiwi dollar climbed toward an 18-month high versus its Australian counterpart after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Graeme Wheeler said the central bank may hike rates if the nation's budget deficit remained higher. Wheeler said further that a return to fiscal surplus and lower public sector indebtedness should be New Zealand's priority.
Elsewhere, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index rose 0.6 percent, Singapore's Straits Times index was moving up 0.3 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average edged down marginally, while benchmark indexes in India and Malaysia were subdued.
U.S. stocks showed a lack of direction on Thursday, as traders digested a mixed batch of economic data on jobless claims, personal income and business activity in the Chicago-area. The Dow fell 0.4 percent, the S&P 500 slid 0.3 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq edged down marginally.
by RTT Staff Writer
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