TOKYO – Asian shares fell on Thursday but losses were curbed as the region's factory activity surveys mostly improved, with China's official and private sector manufacturing PMIs confirming a recovery in the growth trend even if it lacked punch.
European shares were seen rising modestly. Financial spreadbetters expect London's FTSE 100 , Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX to open as much as 0.2 percent higher.
U.S. stock futures were down 0.3 percent, however, suggesting a weak Wall Street open after ending Wednesday flat in the wake of a powerful storm that caused the market's first weather-related two-day closure since the late 19th century.
China's October official PMI rose to 50.2 in October from 49.8 in September, pointing to expanded factory activity in the world's second-largest economy. The final reading of the HSBC PMI hit an 8-month high of 49.5.
Manufacturing growth from Indonesia, Taiwan and India all improved, while Australia's contracted for an eighth month in October.
"Overall sentiment is brightening and Chinese orders are suggesting a moderate recovery," said Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities. "But global monetary easing has strengthened currencies of South Korea and Taiwan, where interest rates are relatively higher, hurting their export-led economies and offsetting the general improvement."
The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> fell 0.3 percent. Mild improvement in Chinese factory activity helped the index trim losses slightly.
A Tokyo-based currency trader said markets may treat the official PMI data with some scepticism out of suspicion that the Chinese authorities would not like a bad number to be released ahead of a once-a-decade leadership transition due to start this month.
Australian shares slid 1.3 percent as miners and banks pulled the index into its biggest one-day percentage fall since late July. Data showing South Korea's manufacturing sector shrank for a fifth straight month in October, even at a milder pace, weighed on Seoul shares <.KS11> which slipped 0.7 percent.
But mainland Chinese shares lifted Hong Kong markets with their best daily performance in about a month, beating Asian peers, as a report that more city governments were easing restrictions on the real estate sector helped bolster sentiment.
The Hang Seng Index was up 0.8 percent and Shanghai shares jumped 1.7 percent.
"Any signs of policy moderation in an important sector like property is always going to help. The better PMI today is also a factor, it gives investors confidence that the economy is recovering," said Cao Xuefeng, head of research at Huaxi Securities in Chengdu.
Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> closed up 0.2 percent as some earnings were not as bad as feared.
CURRENCIES LACK DIRECTION
The dollar gained 0.4 percent against the yen to 80.13, approaching a four-month high of 80.38 hit last week.
The euro was pinned in the recent $1.28-$1.32 range, trading steady at $1.2960. The China-sensitive Australian dollar steadied around $1.0366.
Major currencies have been confined to recent ranges due to uncertainty over bailouts for Greece and Spain, the tight U.S. presidential election on November 6 and the potential for the United States to run over a "fiscal cliff" early next year unless Congress acts to avert looming tax hikes and cuts to public spending.
The U.S. ISM index of national manufacturing conditions in October, due to be released later on Tursday, is expected to hold above 50 for a second straight month
Employment numbers due on Friday are expected to show U.S. employers added 125,000 jobs in October and the jobless rate likely ticked up to 7.9 percent from September's 7.8 percent. Any improvement in the U.S. economy could scale back expectations for further easing, putting upward pressure on U.S. yields and boosting the dollar.
Euro zone finance ministers held a teleconference on Wednesday without any breakthrough on Greece, which served notice that it will overshoot its deficit and debt targets again next year because of a deeper-than-forecast recession.
Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker said he expected a deal at the finance ministers' face-to-face meeting on November 12 provided Greece had completed a list of prior actions.
Brent edged down toward $108 a barrel as investors focused on concerns that storm Sandy's rampage across the U.S. East Coast could reduce fuel demand and shrugged off the positive China data. U.S. crude was up 0.2 percent at $86.41.
"A lot of attention is dedicated to the United States after Sandy came through," said Natalie Rampono, a commodity strategist at ANZ.
Asian credit markets were subdued, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index barely changed from Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Clement Tan in Hong Kong and Florence Tan in Singapore; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)