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Shares in Asia mixed as regional data and surveys paint some progress

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Shutterstock photo - - Shares in Asia were mixed on Wednesday after a slew of data and surveys pointed to potential upsides, but in the case of an HSBC (LONDON:HSBA) survey on China manufacturing still below solid positive territory.

The Nikkei 225 fell 0.98%, but the Shanghai Composite gained 1.39% and the S&P/ASX 200 eased 0.68%.

A busy start to the second quarter with Australia releasing the AI Group Manufacturing Index for March that showed a 0.9 point gain to 46.3. In February the index gave back 3.6 points just when it looked set to capture the 50.0 mark.

Manufacturing is getting a boost from a fall in the exchange rate, but headwinds continue from other directions preventing the index from rising into expansion.

In the latest month manufacturers noted the further drop in mining construction, the progressive closure of motor-vehicle assembly and subdued local business investment in equipment.

In Japan, the first quarter Tankan business survey showed plus-15, below the expected at plus-16, but, up from plus-12 in December for the first rise in two quarters.

Australia February building approvals fell 3.2% month-on-month, less than the 4.0% month-on-month fall expected after a 7.9% gain in January.

Later, the RBA's March Commodity Price Index is due at 1630 (0530 GMT) which showed a 2.7% month-on-month fall in February and 20.6% in year-on-year terms.

In China, the March CFLP manufacturing and services PMI rose to 50.1, better than the dip to 49.7 expected and up from February's 49.9.

The HSBC (LONDON:LONDON:LONDON:HSBA) final PMI for March clocked in at 49.6, better than the 49.3 expected. Investors were shaken by the flash reading showing a surprising fall to 49.2 from February's final 50.7, with slack domestic demand taking the blame.

"The HSBC China Manufacturing PMI fell back below the neutral 50.0 mark at 49.6 in March, as the sector continues to struggle to gain growth traction," said Annabel Fiddes, economist at Markit.

"The latest data indicate that domestic and foreign demand remains subdued amid weaker market conditions, which dampened output growth as a result. Meanwhile, company downsizing policies contributed to a urther decline in manufacturing employment, with the pace of job shedding the strongest since last summer. Despite the sustained fall in cost burdens, any savings were generally passed on to clients as part of attempts to attract new business, suggesting a further squeeze on profit margins."

Overnight, stocks on the U.S. equities markets were broadly lower on Tuesday snapping a two-day winning streak, to cap one of the most volatile months in recent memory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 200 points or 1.11% on Tuesday to drop into negative territory for the year at 17,776.12. The Dow closed on the final day of trading in 2014 at 17,823.07, after a relatively stable month of trading in December. It marked the first time the Dow has posted a negative quarter since the fourth quarter of 2012. The Dow fell to 17,164 in a bearish January, but rose nearly 1,000 points during a bullish February to close at 18,132.70.

Although stocks on the NASDAQ Composite Index and the S&P 500 Composite Index closed lower for the day on Tuesday, both indices posted gains for the quarter. The NASDAQ fell 0.94% or 46.55 to 4,900.89 on Tuesday, but still ended the quarter up 3.48% -- the highest of the three indices. The S&P 500, meanwhile, rose by 0.44% for the quarter to 2,067.89, to keep its streak of winning quarters intact at nine.

In Europe, officials from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) described a set of austerity measures submitted by Greece at the end of last week as a list of ideas rather than a concrete plan. Greece's creditors have deemed the reforms necessary in order to unlock critical financial aid. The two sides reportedly remain far apart on critical issues such as Greek pension reform and debt relief.

Greece is running out of time before a €450 mil payment is due to the IMF next week. offers an extensive set of professional tools for the financial markets.

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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.

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