Asian stocks mixed after Wall St dip as China data awaited

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets were mixed Thursday after a record-breaking rally on Wall Street finally came to an end, while investors await the release of key Chinese data later in the day.

Japanese shares extended their run upwards thanks to the weaker yen, with attention turning to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as speculation swirls that he may put off a planned sales tax hike and call a snap general election.

Immediate focus is now on China, which is due to release data on infrastructure investment, retail sales and industrial output later in the day.

Tokyo added 0.26 per cent by lunch, Hong Kong and Shanghai were flat and Seoul was up 0.28 per cent while Sydney dipped 0.27 per cent.

The Straits Times Index was trading 15 points or 0.5 per cent higher at 3,298.72 at about 11:15am.

With few catalysts to drive trade dealers took their lead from New York, where the Dow and S&P 500 ended marginally lower after five days of closing at all-time highs.

Wall Street investors stepped back on profit-taking and after US, British and Swiss regulators levied more than US$4.0 billion in fines on six of the world's largest banks - including three US lenders - for manipulation of the foreign exchange market.

But analysts said the losses were not too bad, highlighting the general strength of confidence in US markets at the moment.

The Dow edged down 0.02 per cent and the S&P 500 fell 0.07 per cent. However, the Nasdaq added 0.31 per cent to sit at highs not seen since March 2000.

The Nikkei continued a rally from the end of last month that has been fuelled by the Bank of Japan's widened stimulus programme, which in effect prints money, sending the yen tumbling against the US dollar.

In early trade Thursday the greenback bought 115.62 yen, compared with 115.52 yen in New York. The US unit on Tuesday touched above 116 yen for the first time since 2007.

Traders are keeping tabs on any comments from Abe following reports that he is considering delaying next October's sales tax hike after a similar increase in April put the brakes on a nascent economic recovery.

Major newspapers in Japan reported that he may also call a snap election next month if he decides to put off the second tax increase. His ruling coalition would likely win the poll, which would be greeted positively by the market and trigger fresh yen-selling, analysts said.