Asian shares edge higher supported by Fed, China data

Asian shares edge higher supported by Fed, China data

TOKYO - Asian shares inched higher and the dollar steadied on Thursday, supported by a pick-up in China's manufacturing sector and a commitment by the US Federal Reserve to maintain an accommodative monetary stance.

The HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index for China revived to 51.7 in March from 50.4 in February, pointing towards solid but not spectacular first-quarter growth in the world's second-largest economy.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, rose 0.1 per cent with the improving Chinese data helping soothe sentiment rattled by wrangling over a bailout plan for Cyprus.

Hong Kong shares advanced 0.5 per cent, wiping out small losses after the data while Shanghai shares entered positive territory to add 0.3 per cent after the PMI.

The Australian dollar hit a high of US$1.0393 (S$1.3).

"The HSBC figures were definitely a help," said Guy Stear, head of research with Societe Generale in Hong Kong.

South Korean shares trimmed earlier gains to inch up 0.1 per cent while Australian shares gave up gains to fall 0.2 per cent.

"External conditions are favourable today, with the Fed sticking to its easy monetary policy and China's PMI data exceeding expectations," said Kang Hyun-gi, an analyst at IM Securities.

The Fed ended a two-day meeting on Wednesday with a pledge to keep its aggressive policy stimulus despite improvements in the US economy, pointing to still-high unemployment, fiscal headwinds out of Washington and risks from abroad.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank might slow the pace of its bond buying but only after the labour market showed sustained improvement over a number of months.

"There will be reasonable US economic growth this year and the unemployment rate will drift lower.

But neither will be sufficient to induce the Fed to take its foot off the gas.

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