Asian stocks gain as China manufacturing improves

A women looks at an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in the rain in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Asian stock markets were muted Wednesday as investors watched for cues from central banks in Japan and elsewhere. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Japan's Nikkei led gains in Asian stock markets Thursday after a manufacturing survey suggested the slowdown in China's economy is flattening out and Fed minutes reinforced expectations the U.S. central bank won't rush to raise interest rates.

HSBC's manufacturing index based on a survey of factory purchasing managers rose to 49.7 in May from 48.1 in April. Numbers above 50 on the 100-point scale indicate expansion. May's reading was the best result in five months, showing that China's economy is stabilizing after mini-stimulus measures.

Regional heavyweight Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 2.1 percent to 14,337.79 as Japanese yen weakened moderately against the U.S. dollar.

South Korea's Kospi added 0.4 percent to 2,015.59 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.7 percent to 22,990.48. China's Shanghai Composite surrendered earlier gains to fall 0.2 percent to 2,020.62.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 1 percent to 5,479.90. Stocks in New Zealand, Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries also advanced.

While the preliminary reading of China's manufacturing infused optimism, Vishnu Varathan at Mizuho Bank in Singapore said it does not mean that the world's No. 2 economy is accelerating.

The HSBC index "pick-up is at best a consolation about downside risks being mitigated rather than exuberance about an impending acceleration in activity," he said.

Market watchers said minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting released Wednesday showed that the Fed members were not worried that continued easy monetary policy would cause inflation.

That means "there will be no rush to hike rates as both inflation and employment are falling far behind the Fed's mandate," Desmond Chua, analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore, said in a commentary.

Wall Street closed higher on Wednesday, though it was boosted more by strong earnings reports than the Fed minutes.

The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 0.8 percent to close at 1,888.03. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1 percent to 16,533.06 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index added 0.9 percent to finish at 4,131.54.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude for July delivery edged down 21 cents to $103.86 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.74 to close at $104.07 on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3674 from $1.3685 late Wednesday. The dollar rose to 101.66 yen from 101.43 yen.