Asian markets mixed, oil prices sink further

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets were mixed Monday after China released data pointing to further weakness in the country's manufacturing sector, while Tokyo hit a seven-year high as the yen slipped against the dollar.

Energy firms took a hit for a second successive session while airlines climbed after OPEC's decision to maintain oil output levels despite a supply glut and plunging prices.

Tokyo rallied 0.98 per cent to its highest level since July 2007 thanks to fresh yen weakness, while Shanghai added 0.60 per cent on hopes for more economy-boosting measures from China's leaders.

However, Hong Kong sank 1.29 per cent, Sydney slipped 0.78 per cent and Seoul was 0.86 percent lower.

China's official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) of manufacturing eased to 50.3 last month, lower than the 50.8 seen in October and the weakest since March. A figure above 50 signals expansion in the sector, while anything below indicates contraction.

The figure is the latest pointing to a slowdown in the world's number two economy and follows a surprise move by the central People's Bank of China on November 21 to cut interest rates.

Adding to worries about the economy, the independent China Index Academy said Sunday that house prices in the country's 100 major cities fell on a monthly basis for the seventh straight month in November.

Energy firms in the region fell again as oil prices sank to multi-year lows in reaction to Thursday's announcement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that it would not cut production of the black gold.

The cartel refused to listen to calls for a reduction, despite prices having tumbled more than 30 per cent since June on the back of an oversupply caused by weak demand and a surge in output from the United States.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for January delivery plunged US$1.55 in early Asian trading to US$64.60, its lowest intraday level since July 2009.

Brent crude for January sank US$1.84 to US$68.31, lows not seen since February 2010.

Among the biggest losers were Sydney-listed Santos, which fell almost seven per cent, while BHP Billiton lost 3.4 per cent and Woodside shed 4.9 per cent. In Hong Kong PetroChina was 2.2 per cent lower and CNOOC fell 3.3 per cent.

In Singapore, Keppel Corp was down 25 cents or 2.78 per cent to $8.75, while Sembcorp Marine was down 10 cents or 3.2 per cent at $3.03.

However, airlines - whose biggest cost is fuel - climbed again. Singapore Airlines was up 9 cents or 0.8 per cent at $10.97. In Tokyo, Japan Airlines added 5.9 per cent and rival ANA gained 4.3 per cent, while in Hong Kong Cathay Pacific rose 4.3 per cent and Korean Airlines in Seoul was up 6.1 percent.

On foreign exchange markets the US dollar rose to 118.92 yen, up from 118.65 yen in New York Friday.

The euro also climbed to 147.93 yen from 147.64 yen, while it also bought US$1.2437 against $1.2443.

Wall Street ended mixed in truncated trade Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Dow edged marginally higher to a new record and the Nasdaq added 0.09 per cent but the S&P 500 slid 0.25 per cent.