SYDNEY: Asian stock markets edged broadly higher on Thursday and the Australian dollar jumped after a surprisingly strong reading on Chinese manufacturing bolstered hopes for recovery in the world's second-biggest economy.
The HSBC flash PMI came in at 52.0 for July, well above forecasts of a small rise to 51 in July and the highest reading in 18 months. There was also good news on the outlook, with a sub-index of new orders reaching 53.7.
The news injected some life into what had been a very sluggish session, and helped China's CSI300 index of leading Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share jump 1.1 percent.
Japan's Nikkei added 0.2 percent while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.3 percent.
South Korea's benchmark index also rose 0.3 percent despite data showing the country's economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a year. Seoul later announced a package of stimulus measures, including more government spending. Traders noted that, despite all the geopolitical risk, money was clearly flowing back into emerging markets in search for yield.
MSCI's index of emerging equities had jumped in the past two sessions to reach its highest since January 2013.
"Emerging markets continue to be main benefactor from the mix of low volatility, improving global growth and supportive central banks," said analysts at Barclays in a note.
Helping sentiment is that the US earnings season is turning out better than first feared. Barclays estimates that of the 22 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported quarterly results since July 1, 64 percent beat earnings expectations and 65 percent beat revenue estimates.
Apple Inc gave one of the biggest lifts to the market, rising 2.6 percent as concerns faded about the iPhone maker's margins. Facebook Inc also beat forecasts and its stock climbed almost 5 percent after hours.
All of which helped the Nasdaq gain 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.2 percent.
The Dow bucked the trend, pulled lower by a 2.3 percent drop in Boeing Co shares.
The US aircraft maker reported a 52 percent jump in quarterly profit, but investors were spooked by rising costs in its military tanker program.
The Dow closed down 0.2 percent.
NZ DOLLAR SKIDS Still, the prospect of more sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and a downed Malaysian airliner maintained a safety bid for high-rated bonds.
German 10-year yields fell to 1.147 percent, just shy of record lows. For US Treasuries, investors were buying more liquid shorter-dated paper, nudging two-year yields down to 0.48 percent.
In currencies, the New Zealand dollar led the action by skidding to a six-week low after the country's central bank signalled a pause following its fourth straight rate hike.
The kiwi dollar dropped nearly a full US cent to $0.8606 after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) raised rates by 25 basis points to 3.5 percent, but said it was time to wait and gauge the impact of its recent policy tightening on the economy.
The Australian dollar lunged a quarter of a US cent higher as the improving Chinese outlook promised to support demand for the country's resource exports.
Activity elsewhere was limited, with the euro stuck at eight-month lows around $1.3460, leaving the dollar index hovering at a six-week peak.
Against the yen, the US dollar firmed a tad to 101.54, recovering slowly from the recent low of 101.09. In commodities, gold was lagging behind in the beauty competition with equities and eased to $1,300.40 an ounce.
Crude oil prices were a shade firmer Brent crude for September delivery added 5 cents to $108.08 a barrel, while US crude gained a cent to $103.13.