Hong Kong, Shanghai defy Asia slump on stimulus hopes

HONG KONG (AFP) - Equities in Hong Kong and Shanghai extended their rally Friday on hopes for new economy-boosting measures from China, but most other Asian markets retreated following more weak US data and losses on Wall Street.

The US dollar lost ground as the chances of a summer US interest rate hike slimmed after disappointing jobs and housing figures, while the euro managed to hold up despite new worries about Greece's eurozone future.

Shanghai climbed 1.79 per cent and Hong Kong added 0.62 per cent but Tokyo fell 0.80 per cent as the yen picked up against the dollar, while Sydney lost 0.85 per cent and Seoul was flat.

A string of poor Chinese indicators have fuelled a rally in Shanghai's benchmark index over the past year and now mainland investors are turning their attention to Hong Kong, buying what they consider cheap assets.

The southward flood of cash saw turnover in Hong Kong hit record highs twice last week as traders make the most of a link-up between the city's exchange and the bourse in Shanghai.

Wednesday's news that the Chinese economy grew at its slowest quarterly pace in six years has reinforced expectations that Beijing will announce new easing measures.

The yen advanced against the dollar after US data showed housing starts rose less than expected in March, while initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, increased well above estimates to their highest level in six weeks.

The Dow dipped 0.04 per cent, the S&P 500 edged down 0.08 per cent and the Nasdaq eased 0.06 per cent.

The dollar bought 119.06 yen early Friday against 119.04 yen in New York but down from 119.33 yen in Tokyo earlier Thursday.

A speech by Atlanta Fed chief Dennis Lockhart, a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, the central bank's policy arm, also weighed on the dollar.

"A murky economic picture is not an ideal circumstance for making a major policy decision" on beginning to raise rates, he said, insisting he was presenting his own views and not speaking for the policy board or the Fed.

Bets earlier in the year had been on a rise as early as June as the economy showed signs of strength but those expectations have been all but erased following a recent run of downbeat figures.

The euro stood its ground despite worries over Greece after the International Monetary Fund refused to give it more time to repay its loans, while the country's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was talking to the Orthodox Church about using clerical assets to boost state coffers.

The single currency fetched US$1.0767 and 128.19 yen on Friday compared with US$1.0761 and 128.10 yen in US trade.

Oil prices were lower in Asia after clocking up six consecutive days of gains on signs that US production may start easing.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery fell 43 cents to US$56.28 and Brent crude for May tumbled 48 cents to US$63.50 in mid-morning trade.