Asian markets mixed, weak yen lifts Tokyo

PHOTO: Asian markets mixed, weak yen lifts Tokyo

HONG KONG - Asian markets were mixed Thursday, despite a positive lead from Wall Street and news that Chinese manufacturing activity hit a two-year high in January.

The yen retreated after a two-day rally as Japan logged a record trade deficit for last year with exports hit by the ongoing territorial spat with China and Europe's long-running debt crisis.

Tokyo reversed early losses thanks to the yen's dip, with the Nikkei up 1.28 per cent, or 133.88 points, at 10,620.87, while Sydney rose 0.47 per cent, or 22.4 points, to 4,810.2, but Seoul shed 0.80 per cent, or 15.93 points, to 1,964.48.

Shanghai fell 0.79 per cent, or 18.31 points, to 2,302.60, with profit-takers moving in after the index hit an eight-month high in intra-day trade, while Hong Kong shed 0.15 per cent, or 36.20 points, to 23,598.90.

In China HSBC said its preliminary purchasing managers index (PMI) rose to 51.9 in January from 51.5 in December, its highest since January 2011.

Anything above 50 indicates growth while anything below is contraction.

The news reinforces views that the world's number two economy has picked up after a drawn-out slumber. On Friday official figures showed gross domestic product grew at a faster pace than expected in 2012 and at a quicker pace than the government had hoped.

The results provided a fillip to Japan's Nikkei, while data showing Japan suffered a second consecutive annual trade deficit last year sent the yen tumbling, providing shares with another lift.

Official figures from the finance ministry showed Japan's trade shortfall last year totalled 6.92 trillion yen (S$95 billion), with the deficit in December alone standing at a higher-than-expected 641.5 billion yen.

The yen had enjoyed a two-day rally from Tuesday - and equities slumped - after the Bank of Japan disappointed dealers with its two per cent inflation target and indefinite monetary easing, which they said was not enough.

In afternoon currency deals the greenback bought 89.32 yen, compared with 88.56 yen in New York late Wednesday. The dollar, however, is still down from the two-and-a-half-year high 90.24 yen before the BoJ move.

The euro bought 118.70 yen from 118.00 yen, and US$1.3298 from US$1.3315.

The three main indexes on Wall Street ended higher after a string of upbeat earnings from firms including IBM and Google.

The Dow ended up 0.49 per cent, at its highest level since October 2007, while the S&P 500 advanced 0.15 per cent and the Nasdaq climbed 0.33 per cent.

However, after US markets closed Apple released flat October-December first quarter earnings and sales of key products such as the iPhone 5 came in below expectations.

Recently the iPhone 5 made a lacklustre debut in China and an analyst reported that Apple had cut orders for smartphone parts.

Wednesday's results sent shares in the computer giant slumping more than 10 per cent in after-hours trade.

Regional firms linked to Apple ended mixed Thursday after beginning the day in negative territory.

Supplier LG Display fell 1.21 per cent in Seoul, but in Tokyo TDK added 0.96 per cent and telecoms firm Softbank, which sells the iPhone, was up 0.27 per cent.

South Korean shares were also hurt by data showing the economy grew 2.0 per cent in 2012, its slowest pace in three years, owing to overseas turmoil and soft demand at home.

Oil prices were mixed. New York's main contract, WTI light sweet crude for delivery in March gained 15 cents to $95.38 a barrel in the afternoon while Brent North Sea crude for March delivery dropped 18 cents to US$112.62.

Gold was at US$1,682.70 at 0830 GMT compared with $1,691.66 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

- Taipei fell 0.62 per cent, or 48.19 points, to 7,695.99.

TSMC fell 1.09 per cent to Tw$99.9 (S$4.20) while HTC was 0.88 per cent lower at Tw$281.0.

- Manila closed 0.41 per cent higher, adding 24.74 points to 6,117.27.

Ayala Corp. rose 2.26 per cent to 542 pesos, Metro Pacific Investments added 1.25 per cent to 4.86 pesos and Philippine Long Distance Telephone was 0.22 per cent up at 2,792 pesos.

- Wellington was flat, edging up 2.19 points to 4,189.91.

Telecom rose 0.86 per cent to NZ$2.34 (S$2.42), Fletcher Building was down 1.61 per cent at NZ$9.19 and Contact Energy was steady at NZ$5.20.

- Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur were closed for public holidays.