Business

Asia stocks mixed as Chinese inflation at 18-month low

Asian stocks were mixed today after weak Chinese inflation data raised concerns about the risk of deflation in the world's second-largest economy but also opened the door to possible stimulus measures from Beijing.

Tokyo closed up 0.59%, or 35.81 points to 14,199.59, as bargain-hunting reversed opening losses triggered by a strong yen.

Sydney slipped 0.29%, or 16.0 points, to end at 5,460.8, while bargain-hunting saw Seoul close up 0.31%, 5.95 points, at 1,956.55.

Hong Kong rose 0.12%, or 25.87 points, to 21,862.99 while Shanghai slipped 0.20%, or 4.13 points, to 2,011.14.

Chinese annual inflation fell sharply to 1.8% in April, the lowest reading since October 2012 and well below the 3.5% annual target set by Beijing.

"The CPI figure, which was an 18-month low, showed weakness in the domestic economy," Zheshang Securities analyst Zhang Yanbing said.

The data is likely to add to worries that deflation could be looming as Chinese growth slows.

Moderate inflation can be a boon to consumption as it encourages consumers to buy before prices go up, but falling prices encourage consumers to put off spending and companies to delay investment, both of which act as brakes on growth.

The data gives Beijing room for easing, although top officials have publicly ruled out a massive stimulus package to kick-start growth and have instead introduced a series of smaller measures.

"For the government, it can carry out its mini stimulus by speeding up fiscal spending to boost aggregate demand," ANZ economists Liu Ligang and Zhou Hao said in a research note.

There was no clear lead from US stocks, which finished mixed Thursday, as selling pressure continued to dog the technology sector amid worries about overvaluations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 0.20%, or 32.43 points, at 16,570.97, the broad-based S&P 500 slipped 0.14%, or 2.58 points, to 1,875.63.

The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite lost 0.40%, or 16.18 points, to 4,051.50.

Trade was heavy in Twitter, which rebounded 3.7% after two days of sharp selling sparked by the end of a blackout period for pre-IPO investors to sell their shares.

In forex trade the dollar was delicately balanced in Asia on Friday as investors braced for disputed local independence referendums in Ukraine that could further ramp up global tension and undermine optimism.

The dollar, which dropped to 101.54 yen early Friday, recovered to 101.70 yen in afternoon trading, compared with 101.66 yen in New York Thursday afternoon.

The euro edged down after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi said the bank was prepared to further ease monetary conditions next month if the economy needed it.

The euro fetched $1.3833 and 140.68 yen against $1.3840 and 140.69 yen in US trade.

Oil rose on escalating fears of a full-blown armed conflict in Ukraine as pro-Moscow rebels press on with independence referendums.

The US benchmark, West Texas Intermediate for June delivery, climbed 34 cents to US$100.60 in Asian trade. Brent North Sea crude for June was up 37 cents at US$108.41.

Gold fetched US$1,289.14 an ounce at 6.45pm, down from US$1,295.34 on Thursday.

In other markets, Mumbai rose 2.91%, or 650.19 points, to close at 22,994.23 points after touching a fresh lifetime high of 23,048.49 points during the session.

Singapore closed up 0.14%, or 4.44 points, at 3,252.13 while Jakarta ended up 0.77%, or 37.25 points, at 4,898.14.

Bangkok lost 0.12% or 1.65 points to 1,377.37.

Kuala Lumpur gained 3.88 points or 0.21% to 1,866.72.

Taipei closed down 0.46%, or 41.21 points, at 8,889.69.

Wellington fell 0.17%, or 8.74 points, to 5,152.67.

Manila climbed 1.21%, or 82.05 points, to 6,847.26 after a surprise credit rating upgrade of the Philippines by Standard and Poor's. – AFP, May 9, 2014.

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