SYDNEY/SHANGHAI: Asian shares rose after a cautious start, while the euro hovered near two-month lows as soft economic data fuelled hopes the European Central Bank could cut rates at its meeting on Thursday.
Those hopes are set to lift European shares, with pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures up 0.45%, German DAX futures up 0.43% and FTSE futures up 0.19% in early European trade.
Japan's Nikkei touched nearly three-month highs before trimming gains to be up 0.26%. Australian shares neared a 12-year peak, driven by expectations the ECB and the Federal Reserve will soon lower borrowing costs.
“Lower rates are generally, in a traditional, mechanical way, good news for equity prices," said Jim McCafferty, head of equity research, Asia ex-Japan, at Nomura.
Chinese blue-chips added 0.48%, as investors looked with hope to a face-to-face meeting between top U.S. and Chinese negotiators next week, even if there are few signs that it will produce real progress in the two countries' trade war.
But shares in South Korea dropped 0.46% as leading chipmakers shed recent gains amid trade tensions between Seoul and Tokyo.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan , which had begun the day broadly unchanged, was last up 0.23%.
On Wall Street, tech companies led the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq to record highs on Wednesday after Texas Instruments Inc hinted the slowdown in semiconductor demand would not be as long as feared.
Stock investors have generally been encouraged in recent days by hopes of some headway in Sino-U.S. trade negotiations, and expectations of easier monetary policy.
Cementing such expectations, a series of purchasing manager index (PMI) readings in the United States and Europe on Wednesday were weaker than expected.
“Equities have largely brushed off weaker global conditions given the prospects for central bank easing, and an earnings season that has so far seen around 78% of S&P500 companies beating estimates," said Tapas Strickland, director for economics and markets at National Australia Bank.
The Dow, however, fell 0.29% following disappointing earnings from Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc.
After the closing bell, Facebook announced forecast-beating revenues for the second quarter, sending its shares higher in extended trading.
The stock has surged over 56% so far this year, despite warnings on future revenue growth from new data privacy rules and forthcoming privacy-focused product changes.
Market attention on Thursday will be squarely on the ECB rate decision after PMI data showed euro zone manufacturing contracted for the sixth straight month.
That dragged the single currency to $1.1125, a level not seen since late-May. It was last at $1.1135
“With a rate cut priced at 50%, markets are expecting at least a dovish turn from (ECB chief) Mario Draghi," ANZ said in a note.
In the United States, manufacturing activity slowed to a 10-year low in early July with production volumes and purchases falling.
But Nomura's McCafferty said that given the unclear ability of ever-looser monetary policy to jump-start growth, global investors are increasingly looking to signs of fiscal support.
“I think that governments around the world are looking to show a bit of muscle and put some money into the economy, whether that's through tax cuts or spending plans," he said.
The dollar index, tracking the greenback against six major currencies, was a touch lower at 97.707. Against the Japanese yen, the dollar was down 0.09% at 108.07.
The weak global backdrop has seen bond prices rise, with U.S. 10-year yields down to 2.0444% from Wednesday's close of 2.05%. German 10-year Bund yields were at -0.38% while the Feb-2029 Bund was near record lows, yielding -0.422%.
Sterling was flat at $1.2480, after falling for several sessions as market participants feared the looming possibility of a no-deal Brexit under Britain's new prime minister, Boris Johnson.
“If talks between the UK and EU break down, the GBP could see further losses," said Steven Dooley, currency strategist at Western Union Business Solutions.
In commodities, U.S. crude added 20 cents to $56.08 per barrel while Brent crude climbed 15 cents to $63.33.
Spot gold slipped 0.2% to $1,423.09 an ounce, short of last week's peak of $1,452.60.