Asian markets slipped lower Monday as slightly improved manufacturing data from China failed to dampen fears of a slowdown in the world’s number two economy, as markets took a bearish view.
Tokyo gave up early gains to close down 0.20 percent, Hong Kong finished 1.84 percent lower, Sydney shed 0.32 percent, Seoul closed off 0.10 percent and Shanghai closed down 0.76 percent.
The preliminary HSBC China manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to a two-month high of 49.1 in April compared with a final reading of 48.3 in March.
A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below 50 suggests contraction.
The move higher “suggests that the earlier easing measures have started to work and hence should ease concerns of a sharp growth slowdown,” HSBC chief economist for China Qu Hongbin said in a statement.
However, “the pace of both output and demand growth remains at a low level in a historical context and the job market is under pressure. This calls for additional easing measures in the coming months,” he added.
The British banking giant’s data mark the sixth straight month the reading remained in contraction.
Shanghai shares closed down 0.76 percent, with investors betting that further stimulus action would not be coming anytime soon.
Shen Jun, an analyst at BOC International, told AFP that despite the improvement, the reading “does not indicate a recovery in the domestic economy”.
China last week announced its economy grew by 8.1 percent in the first three months of 2012, its slowest pace in nearly three years, putting pressure on Beijing to loosen its monetary policy.
On Monday metals shares were lower after gains in previous sessions.
Western Resources dropped 4.12 percent to 19.30 yuan, Jiangxi Copper fell 1.33 percent to 25.26 yuan and aluminium producer Chalco ended down 1.00 percent to 6.93 yuan.
Investors will be watching the Bank of Japan’s policy meeting and the US Fed’s Open Market Committee meeting later this week, both of which could see the announcement of new easing measures.
The euro eased against the dollar and yen in Asia as investors digested news that Socialist challenger Francois Hollande had beaten Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of France’s presidential election.
The euro inched down to $1.3193 and 107.33 yen in Tokyo afternoon trade from $1.3216 and 107.77 yen in New York late Friday.
The dollar fell to 81.34 yen from 81.52 yen.
Hollande has said he would move to renegotiate a fiscal pact agreed on by European leaders late last year, shifting the focus toward growth rather than enforcing austerity measures as a buffer against the eurozone debt crisis.
The IMF raised $430 billion in new funds for crisis intervention Friday, with China and other emerging economic giants taking part despite worries the money will go to more eurozone bailouts.
It came at a time when worries were mounting that Spain and Italy could founder and require international support following rescues for Portugal, Ireland and Greece.
The Dow climbed 0.50 percent on Friday, the broader S&P 500 was up 0.12 percent but the Nasdaq fell 0.24 percent.
The Fed’s interest rate-setting panel will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to decide whether more stimulus for the spluttering economy is warranted.
While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has sounded more positive in recent weeks, high gasoline prices, slowing job growth and Europe’s debt problems have raised fears of another spring stumble.
But faced with a moderate, if uncertain, economic outlook, and good reasons not to push ahead with new stimulus, the Fed is expected to stand pat.
On oil markets, New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in June shed nine cents to $103.79 while Brent North Sea crude for June delivery rose four cents to $118.80.
Gold was at 1,634.95 an ounce at 0830 GMT, compared with $1,643.62 late Friday.
In other markets:
— Taipei closed down 0.35 percent, or 26.06 points, to 7,481.09.
Hon Hai Precision lost 3.01 percent at Tw$99.9 while leading smartphone maker HTC was 2.38 percent higher at Tw$473.0.
— Manila bucked the trend to close up 0.13 percent, or 6.63 points, to 5,163.09. Top-traded GT Capital Holdings gained 0.04 percent to 492.20 pesos while Megaworld Corp. was up 3.9 percent to 2.13 pesos.
However Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. was down 0.55 percent to 90 pesos.
— Wellington was flat, with the NZX-50 edging down 2.78 points or 0.08 percent at 3,513.45.
Contact Energy fell 2.25 percent at NZ$4.78 and Telecom Corp. gained 1.8 percent at NZ$2.25.