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Asia mixed after China PMI data; AirAsia shares down

On the last trading day of 2014, Asian shares turned mixed early Wednesday as a set of key Chinese manufacturing data curbed risk sentiment. Low volume is expected in Asia today, with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand shuttered for the holiday season.

US stocks fell in low volume trade on Tuesday, on the back of a sharp decline in the utilities sector which led the S&P 500 down 0.5 percent. The blue-chip Dow had its biggest drop in two weeks, settling 0.3 percent lower, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.6 percent.

Crude oil prices will likely remain in focus, after weighing on Asian markets in the last session. US oil futures ended 51 cents higher at USD 54.12 per barrel on Tuesday, rebounding from a five-and-a-half year low, but volatile trading persisted as worries over a global supply glut offset concerns about output disruptions in Libya. Benchmark Brent crude closed up 12 cents at USD 58 per barrel, but was on track for its second weakest month since the global financial crisis of 2008.

ASX flat

Australian equities pared gains early Wednesday as rallying commodity stocks pulled back, but the benchmark S&P ASX 200 index stayed on course for an increase of nearly 1.4 percent year to date.

Miners take heart from a rebound in iron ore prices overnight, with Atlas Iron and BC Iron jumping 10 percent and 8 percent each while Fortescue Metal added 1.5 percent.

Gold shares also edged up, recovering from Tuesday’s selloff, as spot gold settled above USD 1,200 an ounce. Evolution Mining lost early gains to trade flat and Kingsgate notched up 1.5 percent.

Early Wednesday, the Australian dollar moved away from Tuesday’s four-and-a-half-year low, gaining 0.4 percent to fetch USD 0.8212 against the greenback at 1000 SIN/HK.

Mainland indices down

China’s Shanghai Composite index fluctuated between gains and losses after the release of key manufacturing data. At 1000 SIN/HK, the benchmark index traded 0.1 percent lower while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index traded flat.

The HSBC/Markit China manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for the month of December came in at 49.6, up slightly from the reading of 49.5 in the preliminary reading, but still lower than November’s 50.0.

The preliminary reading from HSBC/Markit indicated a contraction in activity in December for the first time in seven months. A reading above 50 indicates growth, while a reading below signals a contraction.

Chinese train makers CSR and China CNR are in focus after confirmed a merger to boost global competition and win more overseas construction contacts. Shares of both firms rocketed more than 30 percent in Hong Kong on their first day of trade, since being suspended on October 27.

Tracking AirAsia QZ8501

Meanwhile, Indonesian officials have confirmed that debris found off the coast of the island of Borneo is from the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501. The jet had been carrying 162 people – including 155 passengers, 2 pilots, 4 cabin crew and one engineer – to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia on Sunday.

Shares of the Malaysian budget carrier headed lower early Wednesday, losing 0.4 percent to touch 2.730 ringgit. The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI index, where AirAsia is listed, was flat.

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