Asian markets were mixed as official data showed a slight pick-up in Chinese manufacturing while a closely watched survey showed Japanese business confidence at a more than six-year high.
Sentiment was also buoyed by comments from the head of the US Federal Reserve underlining its commitment to monetary easing, while tensions in Ukraine eased as Russia partially withdrew troops from its border.
Tokyo on Tuesday fell 0.24 per cent, or 35.84 points, to finish at 14,791.99 despite a fall in the yen against the dollar, while Japan ushered in its first sales tax hike since 1997. Sydney dipped 0.10 per cent, or 5.6 points, to 5,389.2 and Seoul climbed 0.32 per cent, or 6.37 points, to 1,991.98.
Hong Kong rallied 1.34 per cent, or 297.48 points, to 22,448.54 and Shanghai added 0.70 per cent, or 14.15 points, to 2,047.46.
China said its official purchasing managers index (PMI) of manufacturing activity came in at 50.3 for March, up slightly from February’s eight-month low of 50.2. A figure above 50 points to growth while anything below indicates contraction. Economists had forecast the figure to remain unchanged.
“The PMI index rose slightly in March and ended the trend of falling for three consecutive months … it still indicates economic growth will stabilise in the future,” Zhang Liqun, an economist at the state-backed Development Research Centre, was quoted as saying in a statement from the National Bureau of Statistics.
However, banking giant HSBC said its own PMI for the country had fallen to 48.0 last month from 48.5 in February, worse than its initial estimate of 48.1.
A recent run of weak data from China – including on trade, investment and output – has fuelled speculation that policymakers will unveil measures to kick-start growth in the Asian economic giant and driver of global growth.
“The rebound this time reflects the economy remained weak, but it’s slightly better than market expectations,” said Zhou Hao, a Shanghai-based economist with ANZ bank.
“I expect the government to be more active … arranging fiscal expenditure in advance for some lagging projects,” he told AFP.
In Japan, the central bank’s Tankan survey showed business confidence in January-March had surged to its highest level since the December quarter of 2007, the latest indication that the economy is slowly picking up.
However, the news was slightly shaded by a suggestion that investment in the next quarter would be tepid and sentiment lower, possibly as a result of the sales tax rise that critics warn could throw an economic recovery off course.
US stocks ended higher after Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said unemployment was still a big challenge for the economy and that the bank will continue with extraordinary monetary easing measures until the jobless rate falls significantly.
“The recovery still feels like a recession to many Americans, and it also looks that way in some economic statistics,” she said.
The comments will soothe investors after markets tumbled last month in response to a hint from Yellen that interest rates could rise early next year after the Fed winds down its stimulus program.
On Wall Street, the Dow rose 0.82 per cent, the S&P 500 added 0.79 per cent and the Nasdaq jumped 1.04 per cent.
Focus will now turn to the release on Friday of US non-farm payrolls data, which could provide clues about possible Fed plans for the bond-buying scheme at its next meeting.
The US dollar bought Y103.25 in Tokyo trade, compared with Y103.22 on Monday in New York and well up from the Y102.95 level earlier on Monday in Asia.
The euro fetched Y142.40 and $US1.3789, from Y142.15 and $US1.3772.
In oil trade, New York’s West Texas Intermediate for May delivery dropped 47 US cents to $US101.11 a barrel in afternoon trade and Brent North Sea crude for May shed 23 US cents to $US107.53.
Gold fetched $US1,286.89 an ounce at 1905 AEDT compared with $US1,293.64 late on Monday.
In other markets:
– Taipei rose 0.27 per cent, or 23.87 points, to 8,873.15.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co gained 0.84 per cent to $Tw119.5 while smartphone maker HTC was 0.65 per cent higher at $Tw154.0.
– Wellington dropped 0.34 per cent, or 17.46 points, to 5,122.52.
Telecom was down 0.41 per cent at $NZ2.43 while Contact Energy added 0.56 per cent to $NZ5.35.
– Manila surged 1.34 per cent, or 86.01 points, to 6,514.72.