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Asia mostly higher after China flash PMI beat estimates

Asian equities traded mixed amid choppy trade early Wednesday after a modestly higher close on Wall Street overnight and as China’s manufacturing sector surprised markets with growth for the first time in three months.

The flash HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to 50.1 from January’s 49.7 final reading, above the 50-mark which demarcates expansion from contraction, a private survey showed on Wednesday.

Overnight, US stocks advanced in choppy trade, with the Dow and S&P 500 hitting intra-day records, supported by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s dovish congressional testimony. Yellen said the central bank would not hike rates for the next few Federal Open Market Committee meetings.

“None of her views were new, but the market took the testimony as slightly move dovish than before and moved the expectations of a first move in the Fed funds rate from September to October,” Evan Lucas, IG’s market strategist, wrote in a note.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 0.5 percent, while the S&P 500 settled up 0.3 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.1 percent.

Meanwhile, news that finance ministers from the euro zone approved Greece’s new bailout plan could support sentiment. Athens submitted a list of reform proposals at around midnight on Monday, in return for a four-month extension on its bailout package.

Nikkei rebounds 0.1 percent

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rebounded into positive territory an hour into trade, remaining in sight of Tuesday’s 15-year highs, but a weak dollar-yen capped gains.

Hitachi fell 0.8 percent on news that the Japanese conglomerate will be snapping up the rail business of Italian aerospace and defense group Finmeccanica for USD 2.2 billion.

Owner of clothes brand Uniqlo, Fast Retailing, shed 0.9 percent, but other index majors like robot maker Fanuc and Softbank helped to offset losses with 0.1 and 3.4 percent gains.

Mainland indices mixed

China’s stock market inched down 0.2 percent after wavering between gains and losses following the flash PMI reading. The Shanghai Composite index is in its first day of trade since being closed for the past five sessions due to the Lunar New Year holiday.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index held near the flatline in similar choppy trade, as the city’s financial secretary John Tsang is due to deliver his budget statement for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

ASX adds 0.2 percent

Australia’s S&P ASX 200 index resurfaced above the flatline as the banking sector turned mostly positive. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac slipped 0.2 percent each, while Australia and New Zealand Banking and National Australia Bank ticked up 0.1 and 0.3 percent.

Traders are also digesting more corporate earnings; Perth-based Macmahon Holdings surged above 10 percent after it declared confidence that it will emerge from the mining slump that has led to a 30 percent loss in first-half profit. Engineering firm Worley Parsons tanked 8.3 percent following a 7 percent drop in first-half net profit, while Pact Group lost 12.3 percent despite reiterating its full-year guidance for higher revenue and underlying earnings in 2015.

The Australian dollar extended gains to hit a two-and-half-week high of USD 0.7878 to the dollar on the back of better-than-expected manufacturing data from the mainland.

Kospi up 0.7 percent

South Korea’s Kospi index was the top performer in the region, hitting a two-and-a-half-month high as index heavyweights rallied. Utility Kepco piled on 3.4 percent, while Samsung Electronics and Posco rose nearly 1 percent, respectively.

Kumho Tire dipped 0.5 percent as news of strikes at its plants damped sentiment.

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