Asian stocks flat, China PMI meets expectations

Asian stock markets were little moved on Wednesday after a Chinese manufacturing survey met expectations, but the Australian dollar plunged to a two-week low after data showed surprisingly low inflation in that country's economy.

Investors hoping that the Chinese HSBC manufacturing PMI data for April would show some stabilisation in the slowing economy were relieved when the survey came in at 48.3, still in contractionary territory but slightly above the March number.

Asian shares barely reacted to that data although China's stock markets, both the Shanghai Composite Index and the China Enterprises Index of the leading offshore Chinese listings in Hong Kong, were about a quarter of a percent weaker.

The Aussie fell after data showing Australian consumer price inflation was a surprisingly low 0.6% last quarter.

The currency slid more than half a US cent to $0.9295 in reaction to the soft inflation reading. Interbank futures rallied as the market pared back the risk that the Reserve Bank of Australia will have to raise interest rates before the year-end.

"The fall in the Aussie was quite large considering that interest rate markets weren't pricing a hike until mid-2015 anyway," said Sean Callow, currency strategist at Westpac.

"The slide gives the impression that Aussie bears have been waiting for a reason to bash it and are jumping on the opportunity."

Australia already has high yields relative to its rich world peers which, combined with improving economic data, has been attracting offshore money into the local dollar.

Other Asian stock markets crept higher following merger-driven gains in Europe and on Wall Street.

Japan's Nikkei put on 0.7% while Australia's main index edged up 0.5%. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat.

The better mood owed much to Wall Street where the Dow rose 0.4%, while the S&P 500 gained 0.41% and the Nasdaq 0.97%.

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares jumped 1.34% on Tuesday.

CHINA INFUSES CASH

On Tuesday, China's central bank said it will cut the amount of deposits rural banks must hold as reserves by between 0.5 and 2 percentage points, the latest in a series of measures to help combat a slowing economy.

"The impact of a selective RRR cut is still limited as it will only inject as much as RMB100 billion liquidity into the system," noted analysts at ANZ.

"We would treat the move as a signal which reflects that the accommodative monetary policy stance will be maintained over the foreseeable future, given that the real economy is expected to remain lukewarm and inflation pressures are mild."

The US dollar was otherwise sidelined at 102.60 yen and $1.3814 per euro , having held to tight ranges for some days now.

In the United States and Europe all the talk was of mergers, this time in the pharmaceutical sector.

AstraZeneca climbed 4.7% after the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Pfizer approached its British rival with a 60 billion pound ($101 billion) takeover offer. Pfizer rose 1.2% to $31.23.

GlaxoSmithKline rose 5.2% after it agreed to sell its oncology products to Novartis for $14.5 billion. Novartis' shares added 2.3%.

In commodity markets, US crude futures fell ahead of data expected to show that US inventories have risen close to record highs. Brent also fell but was cushioned by continued concerns over the stand-off in Eastern Ukraine.

Brent crude was quoted 17 cents firmer at $109.44 a barrel, after reaching a six-week high of $110.36 last week. US crude added 11 cents to $101.86 a barrel.

Gold remained out of favour after touching its lowest in more than two months on Tuesday, weighed down by gains in Wall Street stocks and as outflows from physical gold funds pointed to weak investment appetite.

Early Wednesday, spot gold was trading at $1,284.4 an ounce, just off a trough of $1,277.10.

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