Asian markets mixed, China factory data underwhelms

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HONG KONG–Asian markets were mixed Friday, with Tokyo supported by further weakness in the yen, while Hong Kong and Shanghai dipped after official data showed Chinese manufacturing saw a moderate slowdown.

Tokyo were up 0.35 percent by the break and Sydney climbed 0.65 percent while Hong Kong shed 0.56 percent, Shanghai slipped 0.34 percent and Seoul eased 0.74 percent.

Beijing released official figures Friday showing manufacturing activity had seen a slip last month. The purchasing managers index (PMI) came in at 50.4, down from December’s 50.6 and below the 51.0 forecast by economists.

A score above 50 indicates an expansion in manufacturing activity.

The data represent the first halt to a recent rise in activity that has fuelled hopes the world’s number two economy has emerged from the slumber it endured through most of 2012.

However, a separate figure by banking giant HSBC showed the PMI at a more than two-year high of 52.3, up from 51.5 in December.

Tang Yonggang, an analyst at Hongyuan Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires: “The (official) PMI reading was lower than expectations, though it wasn’t too low, so the trend of expansion in manufacturing stays somewhat intact.”

China will release crucial trade and inflation figures next week.

Japanese shares enjoyed further advances as investors continued to sell the yen after the Bank of Japan said it would carry out open-ended monetary easing and introduce a two percent inflation target.

In early Tokyo trade the dollar bought 91.76 yen, up from 91.70 yen in New York late Thursday. The euro rose to 124.90 yen from 124.52 yen, while it also bought $1.3605, up from $1.3576.

Wall Street provided a weak lead as investors look ahead to the release late Friday of non-farm payroll figures for a fresh clue to the state of the economy, days after data showed it a surprise 0.1 percent contraction in the three months to December.

The Dow fell 0.36 percent, the S&P 500 dropped 0.26 percent and the Nasdaq was flat.

On oil markets New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in March, rose five cents to $97.54 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for March delivery rose 18 cents to $115.73.

Gold was at $1,661.10 at 0220 GMT compared with $1,674.65 late Thursday.

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