CANBERA (Alliance News) - Asian stocks swung between gains and losses on Thursday as investors remained cautious ahead of a European Central Bank meeting and the US nonfarm payrolls report due out later in the day. Investors also reacted to service sector data from China painting a mixed picture of the world's second-largest economy.
China's services sector grew at a faster pace in June signaling a broad-based improvement from the previous month, the latest survey from HSBC and Markit Economics revealed. The index posted a score of 53.1, touching a 15-month high and up from 50.7 in May. In contrast, official data showed that the services sector continued to expand in June, albeit at a slower pace. The index slipped to 55.0 from 55.5 in May.
Japanese shares drifted lower on profit taking as investors awaited cues from the US jobs report due later in the day. The benchmark Nikkei average dropped 0.14% to 15,348.29, snapping a three-day winning streak, while the broader Topix index slipped 0.17%. Retail, insurance and oil stocks led the declines.
Dai-ichi Life Insurance fell 2.3% on a report the insurer's board will approve a share sale this week. Toshiba Corp. rallied 2.5% on a Nikkei report that the company is nearing a deal worth about 500 billion yen to build a nuclear reactor in Bulgaria.
In economic news, Japan's service sector activity declined further in June, a survey by Markit Economics showed. The Markit Japan Services PMI edged down to 49.0 from 49.3 in May, signaling contraction for the third consecutive month.
Chinese shares rose, led by banks after the People's Bank of China lifted controls on the dollar/yuan exchange rate for banks when dealing with clients. The foreign exchange regulator allowed banks to fix the exchange rates based on market based supply and demand, with effect from Wednesday. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index rose 0.19% to 2,063.23.
Hong Kong'sHang Seng index edge down 0.08% on profit taking after rising to a near seven-month high on Wednesday.
Australian shares rose notably as metal prices gained ground and banks posted solid gains amid optimism about the US economic recovery. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.66% to finish at 5,491.2. Miners paced the gains, with Rio Tinto rising 0.7% and BHP Billiton adding a percent, while Alumina, Fortescue Metals Group and Bluescope Steel climbed 4-7%. The big four banks closed up between 0.4% and 0.9%.
Seoul shares ended a choppy session on a flat note after rising sharply the previous day. The benchmark Kospi average edged down 0.21% to 2,010.97. Hyundai Motor lost 1.1% and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp shed 0.7% as the Korean won hit a fresh six-year high against the dollar.
The Australian dollar dropped below US94c following cautious comments by Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens on the currency and house prices. In an Australasian Meeting of the International Econometric Society in Hobart, the RBA governor warned investors against believing that house prices will always rise. Stevens also said that low interest had their intended impact on the economy and that the exchange rate remains high by historical standards.
In economic releases, Australian retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in May from the previous month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said - coming in at AUD22.990 billion. That missed forecasts for a flat reading following the downwardly revised 0.1% decline in April. Building approvals jumped 9.9% from the previous month, beating expectations, while the services sector continued to contract in June to post its fourth straight month of decline, separate reports showed.
New Zealand's NZX-50 Index rose 0.35% to 5,167.39, with 29 of its components advancing. Tower, which has divested its remaining life insurance business, rose 1.4% to a seven-month high, while Telecom Corp, Fletcher Building, Meridian Energy and Diligent Board Member Services rose between 0.6% and 3.0%.
Elsewhere, India's Sensex was little changed with a positive bias as trading resumed on the Bombay Stock Exchange after a three-hour network outage. Malaysia's KLSE Composite index was up 0.1%, Singapore's Straits Times was adding half a percent and the Taiwan Weighted average rose 0.4%, while Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was down 0.4%.
US stocks ended narrowly mixed showing little change overnight, though the Dow and the S&P 500 set fresh record closing highs as investors digested a positive reading on private sector employment.