Asian shares mixed at start of new year

Asian shares mixed at start of new year

HONG KONG - Asian markets began 2014 mixed on Thursday, with another record-breaking close on Wall Street offset by a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing growth.

Trading across the region remained quiet after the New Year break, while the dollar held on to its recent gains against the yen.

Hong Kong rose 0.65 per cent, Sydney added 0.42 per cent, Seoul was 0.31 per cent lower and Shanghai eased 0.18 per cent. Tokyo and Wellington were closed for public holidays.

US shares gave a positive lead going into 2014, with investors in New York upbeat after a string of strong data indicating the world's top economy is getting back up to speed.

The Dow added 0.44 per cent and the S&P 500 gained 0.40 per cent in Tuesday trade - both new records - while the Nasdaq rose 0.54 per cent to hit its high for the year.

The Dow gained 26.5 per cent in 2013 - its best percentage rise in more than 15 years - while the S&P 500 advanced 29.6 per cent, marking its strongest jump since 1997.

However, while the performance in New York provided a catalyst for buying, figures showing that factory activity in China had slowed weighed on sentiment.

On Wednesday, Beijing's official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for December came in at 51.0, down from November's 51.4 and below the median 51.2 forecast of eight economists by The Wall Street Journal.

Anything above 50 points to growth while a figure below indicates contraction.

It marked the 15th straight month of growth but it is the first time the figure has dipped from the previous month since June.

On Thursday, HSBC said its China PMI dipped to 50.5 last month from 50.8 in November.

The results raised concerns about the state of the world's number two economy - which is a key driver of regional and global growth - with analysts fearing it has slowed in recent months despite a pick-up in the middle of the year.

Shanghai stocks have also been hit by worries over a share glut and a liquidity crisis as Chinese initial public offerings restart from Thursday after a year-long ban.

On currency markets, the dollar sat around five-year highs of 105.26 yen (S$1.26) in Asian early trade, against 105.33 yen in New York on Tuesday.

The euro bought US$1.3751 (S$1.73) compared with US$1.3753 while it was also at 144.83 yen  from 144.89 yen.

Oil prices rose. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for February delivery, was up 27 cents at US$98.69 in early Asian trading while Brent North Sea crude for February rose 22 cents to US$111.02.

Gold fetched US$1,213.09 at 0230 GMT compared with US$1,198.89 late Tuesday.

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