Asia stocks seesaw as China trade drops


TOKYO (AP) — Asian stock markets seesawed Thursday as worse-than-expected Chinese trade figures were countered by news of plans for closer links between the Hong Kong and Shanghai bourses.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 stock average edged 0.1 percent higher by mid-afternoon, to 14,320.00, giving up some early gains after the government reported that private machinery orders sank 8.8 percent in March. The major yardstick for capital spending suggests such investments had come to a standstill.

Hong Kong's benchmark reversed course by midday, making up for morning losses after Premier Li Keqiang announced plans for closer ties between the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock markets.

"We will carry out a new round of opening-up at a high level," the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Li as saying. Li said opening capital markets is crucial to China's broader long-term effort to modernize its economy.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.4 percent to 22,939.73 and the Shanghai Composite added 0.3 percent to 2,110.98.

Li's comments pushed shares of Hong Kong brokerages up by 10 to 20 percent, said Jackson Wong, a vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.

The upward momentum from Wednesday's rally on Wall Street dissipated after China reported that its imports dropped 11.3 percent in March from a year earlier, along with a surprise 6.6 percent drop in exports. The figures suggest the mainland's economic slowdown may be deeper than feared.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi index edged 0.2 percent higher to 2,002.01 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.3 percent to 5,482.40.

Shares fell in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia, but were higher in New Zealand, Malaysia and India.

U.S. indexes advanced Wednesday after the nation's central bank issued minutes from a meeting showing Fed policymakers want to be absolutely certain the U.S. economy has recovered before starting to raise interest rates.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.1 percent to 16,437.18. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 gained 1.1 percent to 1,872.18.

In other markets, the dollar fell to 101.77 from 102.10 yen late Wednesday. The yen has strengthened since the Bank of Japan failed to announce fresh stimulus measures earlier this week. The euro fell to $1.3845 from $1.3856.

Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery was down 32 cents at $103.28 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.04 to $103.60 on Wednesday.