Investing.com - Asian stock markets were mostly higher on Thursday, as investors looked ahead to the release of upcoming U.S. economic data and a policy meeting by the European Central Bank.
During late Asian trade, Hong Kong''s Hang Seng Index rose 0.65%, China’s Shanghai Composite index inched up 0.32%, Australia’s ASX/200 Index closed 0.01% lower, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index ended up 1.59%.
Asia’s performance came after a lackluster session in the U.S., where stocks ended mostly lower following the release of disappointing U.S. data on private sector hiring and service sector activity.
Market players now looked ahead to key U.S. economic data later in the day for further indications on the strength of the economy and the future course of monetary policy.
The U.S. is to publish the weekly report on initial jobless claims later in the day as well as data on factory orders. Investors were also beginning to turn their attention to Friday’s highly-anticipated nonfarm payrolls data.
Market players will also be awaiting the outcome of the ECB’s policy meeting later Thursday. While no policy change was expected from the central bank, focus will be on forward guidance and hints about future easing.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei rallied to a five-week high as the yen weakened against the U.S. dollar, boosting sentiment. USD/JPY rose to a daily high of 102.76, moving off the previous session’s low of 102.10.
Automakers Toyota and Honda saw shares rise 1.9% and 1.7% respectively, while index heavyweights Fast Retailing and Softbank rallied 1.8% and 4.85%.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the ASX/200 Index ended little changed after data showed that retail sales there rose 1.2% in January, easily surpassing expectations for a 0.5% increase.
A separate report showed that the country’s trade surplus widened to A$1.43 billion in January from A$591 million in December. Markets were expecting a trade surplus of A$270 million.
Elsewhere, the Hang Seng edged higher as sharp gains in property developers boosted the benchmark index. China Overseas Land & Investment jumped 5.5%, while China Resources Land picked up 3%.
China set its gross domestic product growth target for 2014 at 7.5%, as widely expected, and will keep consumer inflation at 3.5%, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Wednesday.
Shares in the financial sector were mixed, as worries about domestic bond defaults weighed.
China Construction Bank added 0.6%, China CITIC Bank climbed 1.2%, while Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and China Minsheng Bank shed 0.5% and 0.7%.
Looking ahead, European stock market futures pointed to a mildly higher open ahead of the ECB’s monthly meeting later in the Thursday.
The EURO STOXX 50 futures pointed to a gain of 0.4% at the open, France’s CAC 40 futures added 0.25%, London’s FTSE 100 futures indicated a rise of 0.2%, while Germany''s DAX futures picked up 0.35%.
Across the Atlantic, U.S. equity markets also pointed to a firmer open. The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures pointed to a rise of 0.2%, S&P 500 futures inched up 0.2%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures indicated an increase of 0.2%.
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