Asian shares mixed at start of new year

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian share markets began the new year mixed on Thursday, with another record-breaking close on Wall Street offset by a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing growth.

Trading across the region was quiet after the break. The dollar held on to its recent gains against the yen, sitting just below five-year highs.

Sydney added 0.29 per cent, or 15.7 points, to 5,367.9 while Seoul tumbled 2.20 per cent, or 44.15 points, to close at 1,967.19.

Shanghai lost 0.31 per cent, or 6.59 points, to 2,109.39 and Hong Kong added 0.14 per cent, or 33.66 points, to 23,340.05.

Tokyo and Wellington were closed for public holidays.

United States shares gave a positive lead going into 2014, with investors in New York upbeat after a series of strong data indicating the world's top economy is getting back up to speed.

The Dow added 0.44 per cent and the S&P 500 gained 0.40 per cent in Tuesday trade - both new records - while the Nasdaq rose 0.54 per cent to hit its high for the year.

The Dow gained 26.5 per cent in 2013 - its best percentage rise in more than 15 years - while the S&P 500 advanced 29.6 per cent, marking its strongest jump since 1997.

However, while the performance in New York provided a catalyst for buying, figures showing that factory activity in China had slowed weighed on sentiment.

On Wednesday Beijing's official purchasing managers' index (PMI) for December came in at 51.0, down from November's 51.4 and below the median 51.2 forecast of eight economists by The Wall Street Journal. Anything above 50 points to growth while a figure below indicates contraction.

It marked the 15th straight month of growth but it is the first time since June that the figure has dipped from the previous month.

And on Thursday HSBC said its China PMI dipped to 50.5 last month from 50.8 in November.

The results raised concerns about the state of the world's number two economy - which is a key driver of regional and global growth - with analysts fearing it has slowed in recent months despite a pick-up in the middle of the year.

Shanghai stocks have also been hit by worries over a possible share glut and a liquidity crisis as Chinese initial public offerings restart from Thursday after a year-long ban.

On currency markets, the dollar sat at 105.34 yen in Asian trade, against 105.33 yen in New York on Tuesday. Earlier this week the greenback hit 105.41 yen, its highest since October 2008.

The euro bought $1.3722 compared with $1.3753 while it was at 144.54 yen from 144.89 yen.

Oil prices rose. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for February delivery, was up 49 cents at US$98.91 (S$124.92) in mid-morning trade. Brent North Sea crude for February rose 45 cents to US$111.25.

Gold fetched US$1,221.90 at 0810 GMT compared with US$1,198.89 late Tuesday.

In other markets: - Taipei ended flat, edging up 1.03 points to 8,612.54.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. fell 0.95 per cent to Tw$104.5 while Hon Hai rose 0.37 per cent to Tw$80.4.

- Manila closed 1.60 per cent higher, adding 94.43 points to 5,984.26.

Universal Robina gained 4.33 per cent to 118 pesos while International Container Terminal Services rose 10 per cent to 102.10 pesos.