CANBERA (Alliance News) - Asian stocks ended mixed on Thursday, with Chinese and Hong Kong shares giving back some ground after recent sharp gains, while the Japanese market extended gains into a fourth session to hit a one-week high, riding on the back of a weaker yen amid hopes that conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East can be contained. Investors took weak US retail sales data in their stride, betting that the Federal Reserve won't be in a hurry to raise interest rates.
Chinese shares lost ground, dragged down by financial, realty and energy stocks after a slew of economic reports released on Wednesday showed further signs of softening in the world's second-largest economy. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.74% to 2,206.47. Hong Kong'sHang Seng index fell 0.36% to 24,801.36.
Japanese shares extended gains for a fourth day, buoyed by firm overseas cues and a weaker yen amid expectations the country's giant public pension fund will expand its allocation of equities. The benchmark Nikkei average rose 0.66% to 15,314.57. Among top gainers, Nisshin Steel, JFE Holdings, Nippon Electric Glass, Pacific Metals and Obayashi Corp rose 1-3%. Kyowa Hakko Kirin Co. fell half a percent on a rating downgrade.
On the economic front, Japan's core machinery orders, a leading indicator of capital spending, rose 8.8% in June from the previous month, up for the first time in three months but well shy of forecasts for an increase of 15.3% following the record 19.5% decline in May, government data showed. On a yearly basis, core machine orders dipped 3.0%.
According to Fitch Ratings, Japan's full-year growth forecast of 1.6% remains in place with exports set to pick up in the second half. The marked contraction in GDP in the second quarter was largely expected and it was due to timing effects on consumption from the implementation of sales tax increase on April 1, Fitch noted.
Australian shares rose notably, led by gains in the banking sector. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.6% to 5,548.5. ANZ and Commonwealth inched up marginally, while NAB rose 0.8% and Westpac advanced 0.7%. Miners dropped as iron ore prices fell. BHP Billiton slipped 0.2%, Rio Tinto lost a percent and Fortescue Metals Group shed 1.8%.
Media group Fairfax Media soared 6.2% after posting turnaround results for the year. Casino company Crown Resorts jumped 5.6% on posting a 66% jump in full-year net profit. Shares of Telstra Corporation added 2.2%. The country's largest telephone company unveiled a share buyback after posting annual profit that beat analyst estimates.
Seoul shares ended little changed with a positive bias as the central bank cut its key interest rate for the first time in 15 months to stimulate the economy. After keeping interest rates unchanged for 14 straight meetings, the Bank of Korea today cut its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to 2.25%, the lowest since November 2010. The move is seen as a complement to last month's government stimulus plan. The benchmark Kospi average rose 0.04% to 2,063.22.
New Zealand shares rose after Nuplex Industries reported an 18% rise in full-year profit, beating its June guidance. Shares of the industrial chemicals and resins manufacturer jumped 2.4% to USD2.96, while Spark New Zealand, formerly known as Telecom Corp, advanced 1.4% and SkyCity Entertainment Group climbed 2.8%. Investment holding company Guinness Peat Group tumbled 5.3%, extending Wednesday's 2.2% decline. The benchmark NZX-50 index gained 0.15% to finish at 5,062.41.
In economic releases, data from the Statistics New Zealand showed that retail sales in the country climbed a seasonally adjusted 1.2% sequentially in the second quarter of 2014, beating forecasts for an increase of 1.0% following the upwardly revised 0.8% gain in the first quarter. Another report showed that the manufacturing sector in New Zealand continued to expand in July, albeit at a slightly slower pace with a score of 53.0.
Elsewhere, the Taiwan Weighted average ended little changed and India's Sensex was moving up half a percent, while Singapore's Straits Times index was down 0.2% and Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was declining half a percent.
US stocks rose notably overnight despite a weaker-than-expected report on retail sales and some disappointing earnings reports. The Dow rose 0.6%, the tech-heavy Nasdaq gained a percent and the S&P 500 advanced 0.7%.