Asia stocks edge higher; gains capped by debt ceiling concerns

Shutterstock photo - Asian stock markets edged higher on Thursday, but gains were capped as investors were hesitant to push prices higher as focus turned to how U.S. lawmakers will deal with the upcoming debt ceiling debate.

During late Asian trade, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index swung between modest gains and losses, while Australia's ASX/200 Index settled 0.7% higher.

Financial markets in Japan and China remained closed for an extended holiday and will reopen on Friday.

Market sentiment was boosted Wednesday after U.S. lawmakers passed a compromise bill to avoid the fiscal cliff, blocking a series of looming tax increases and spending cuts that could have pushed the U.S. economy back into a recession.

However, investors remained jittery over the longer term outlook, with negotiations on raising the U.S. debt ceiling still to come in February.

Shares in Hong Kong were little changed a day after hitting a 19-month high, as focus remained squarely on the U.S. economy.

Traders largely ignored a pickup in China's nonmanufacturing PMI. China's services PMI rose to 56.1 in December from 55.6 in November, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Shares in insurance firms were higher for a second day, with China Pacific Insurance and Ping An Insurance Group up 2% and 2.3% respectively.

Hong Kong's blue-chip exporters also contributed to gains, with clothing retailer Esprit Holdings up 5% and Belle International Holdings adding on 3.7%.

Elsewhere, in Australia, the benchmark ASX/200 Index rose to the highest level since May 2011, on the back of strong gains in miners.

Mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton rose 2.4% and 0.8%, while Newcrest Mining and Fortescue Metals Group surged 3.1% and 2.5% respectively.

In Europe, stocks were set to open lower, giving back some of the previous session's strong gains recorded in wake of a successful U.S. congressional vote that avoided the fiscal cliff.

The EURO STOXX 50 futures pointed to a loss of 0.4% at the open, France's CAC 40 futures shed 0.3%, Germany's DAX futures pointed to a loss of 0.3% at the open, while London's FTSE 100 futures indicated a drop of 0.25% at the open.

Later in the day, Germany is to release official data on unemployment change. Spain is to publish a similar report as well.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is to release a report on ADP nonfarm payrolls, as well as its weekly government report on initial jobless claims. In addition, the Federal Reserve is to publish the minutes of its most recent policy-setting meeting. - offers an extensive set of professional tools for the Forex, Commodities, Futures and the Stock Market including real-time data streaming, a comprehensive economic calendar, as well as financial news and technical & fundamental analysis by in-house experts.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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