Asian markets mostly higher as investors shrug off weak data, expecting more stimulus

Asian shares rose Thursday despite fresh data showing economic weakness in China and Japan, as investors pinned their hopes on further stimulus measures. Monetary easing and ample liquidity are drawing foreign investors, boosting markets across the region.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 remained above the 20,000 mark it broached for the first time in 15 years the day before, gaining 0.2 percent to 20,180.74. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 0.5 percent to 28,073.26 and South Korea's Kospi gained 1.4 percent to 2,174.72. Australia's S&P ASX/200 was nearly flat at 5,836.70, and markets in Southeast Asia were mixed.

CHINA MANUFACTURING: HSBC said Thursday that a preliminary version of its index based on a survey of factory purchasing managers fell to 49.2 in April, its lowest point in a year, from 49.6 in March. Readings below 50 indicate contraction. The fresh sign that growth is faltering in the world's second biggest economy will add to pressure on policymakers in Beijing to act to stave off a sharper slowdown.

JAPAN DATA: A survey in Japan showed a third straight monthly fall in manufacturing, from 50.3 in March to 49.7 in April, suggesting industries are still not in full recovery mode after the recession brought on by a sales tax hike on April 1, 2014.

THE QUOTE: "Japan and China seem to have detached themselves from economic reality and the gains we've been seeing are by no means a reflection of the underlying economies," Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG, said in a commentary. "However, judging by the momentum we've been seeing, there is a belief equities will keep on rising."

WALL STREET: The S&P 500 rose 10.67 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,107.96 on Wednesday, just 10 points shy of its March 2 record high. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 88.68 points, or 0.5 percent, to 18,038.27. The Nasdaq composite picked up 21.07 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,035.17.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 10 cents to $56.26 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 45 cents to $56.16 a barrel in New York. Brent crude fell 7 cents to $62.66 barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 119.84 yen from 119.98 yen late Wednesday. The euro also edged lower, to $1.0710 from $1.0725.