Investing.com - Asian stock markets were mixed in cautious trade on Thursday, as investors looked ahead to the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the day amid mounting speculation the bank will cut its deposit rate below zero as a way to bolster low levels of inflation and sluggish growth.
During late Asian trade, Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 0.09%, China's Shanghai Composite inched up 0.37%, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 closed 0.15% lower, while Japan's Nikkei 225 ended up 0.08%.
Asia was given a positive lead from the U.S., where the S&P 500 closed at a fresh all-time high, as indications that the U.S. economy is improving boosted sentiment.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei swung between small gains and losses as traders continued to monitor movements in the currency market. The yen retreated from the previous session's one-month low of 102.78 against the U.S. dollar, to trade at ¥102.44.
Dai-ichi Life Insurance (TOKYO:8750) ended little changed after agreeing to buy U.S. peer Protective Life for $5.7 billion, the largest acquisition by a Japanese insurer.
Elsewhere, in Australia, the ASX/200 Index fell to a two-week low after data showed that the country's April trade balance fell into a deficit at A$122 million, compared to an A$300 million surplus expected.
The Australian dollar edged slightly higher against the U.S. dollar, with AUD/USD rising to 92.87 from a close of 92.71 in the prior session.
Meanwhile, shares in mainland China and Hong Kong fluctuated after data showed that growth in China's services sector was smaller than expected last month.
The May HSBC China Services PMI fell to 50.7 from 51.4 in April. "Latest data signaled a relatively big drop in the business expectations index, which fell to an 11-month low of 58.1, down from 60.7 in April," said HSBC chief China economist Qu Hongbin.
Looking ahead, European stock market futures pointed to a modestly higher open as investors looked ahead to the outcome of the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the trading day. The announcement is to be followed by a press conference with President Mario Draghi.
The Euro Stoxx 50 futures pointed to a gain of 0.1%, France's CAC 40 added 0.1%, London's FTSE 100 indicated a rise of 0.1%, while Germany's DAX futures picked up 0.1%.
Across the Atlantic, U.S. equity markets also pointed to a flat open. The Dow 30 pointed to a loss of 0.03%, the S&P 500 inched down 0.03%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures were little changed.
The U.S. is to publish the weekly report on initial jobless claims later in the session.
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