Asian markets inch higher as China data sifted

HONG KONG: Major Asian markets inched higher Tuesday amid signs China's stimulus measures were helping shield its economy from the global slump and as governments issued cautious outlooks about the recovery.

Regional markets made tentative gains as investors sifted through a rash of data about China's economy that together provided positive signs for Beijing's multibillion-dollar effort to restore stable growth, though still hinted at weak fundamentals.

While industrial output and retail sales rose last month in the world's third-largest economy, imports and exports were still down sharply from a year earlier amid continuing weak global demand.

Investors have been counting on China's homegrown growth to help other economies turn around quicker, but Tuesday's data raised concerns such expectations may fall short, said Peter Lai, investment manager at DBS Vickers in Hong Kong. That in turn could weigh on the markets, he said.

"The upside room is quite limited right now," he said. "The global economy may have reached a bottom, but the revival will take some time, there are just too many uncertainties."

Markets across the region traded in a narrow range.

In a back-and-forth session, Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 86.34 points, or 0.4 percent, at 21,015.86 and Shanghai's benchmark gained 0.3 percent to 3,258.40

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 18.54, or 0.2 percent, to 10,542.80 as the Bank of Japan said there were signs the downturn was bottoming out but warned about growing joblessness.

South Korea's central bank was similarly cautious, saying the road to stronger growth was uncertain because recoveries in other major economies could be delayed. The benchmark Kospi added less than 0.1 percent to 1,576.81.

Australia's benchmark rose 0.3 percent and Singapore's main index climbed nearly 2 percent after being closed for a national holiday Monday. Indexes in Thailand, Taiwan and New Zealand were moderately lower.

Wall Street posted moderate losses overnight as investors took some profits without any major corporate or economic news.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 32.12, or 0.3 percent, to 9,337.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.38, or 0.3 percent, to 1,007.10, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 8.01, or 0.4 percent, to 1,992.24.

Wall Street futures declined modestly with Dow futures off 5 points at 9,315.

Oil prices lingered below $71 a barrel, with benchmark crude for September delivery up 4 cents at $70.64. On Monday, the contract fell 33 cents.

The dollar fell to 96.63 yen from 97.09 yen, and the euro traded lower at $1.4137 compared to $1.4144.