Asian markets lifted by China manufacturing data

Asian markets were mixed Thursday as Chinese data showing manufacturing activity in the world's number two economy picked up in March, while Tokyo was lifted by renewed weakness in the yen.

Traders are also keeping an eye on developments in Europe, where officials in Cyprus will present later in the day a revised fund-raising plan to help it access crucial bailout cash.

Wall Street provided a positive lead after the US Federal Reserve kept its huge stimulus measures in place and said the economy has shown signs of picking up.

Tokyo climbed 1.34 percent, adding 167.46 points to 12,635.69 and Shanghai gained 0.30 percent, or 6.87 points, to 2,324,24, but Seoul closed 0.44 percent lower, losing 8.59 points to 1,950.82, while Hong Kong shed 0.14 percent, or 30.56 points, to end at 22,225.88.

Sydney fell 0.16 percent owing to political uncertainty after Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a snap leadership vote among her Labor party, which has grown frustrated at its weak showing in polls ahead of a September election.

The S&P/ASX 200 ended down 7.9 points at 4,959.4 having spent the day either side of the break-even line.

Soon after the market closed Gillard won an unopposed poll as the man tipped to stand against her, Kevin Rudd, opted against running at the last minute .

In China HSBC bank released preliminary figures showing a healthy rise in the manufacturing sector.

The China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index rose to 51.7 in March, from 50.4 in February. A reading above 50 indicates expansion and anything below points to contraction.

The latest figures break a recent spell of worrying results from trade to inflation that have raised concerns about the economy, which saw its weakest growth in 13 years in 2012.

"This implies that the Chinese economy is still on track for gradual growth recovery," HSBC economist Qu Hongbin said in a statement.

And Hannah Li, senior equity analyst at Sun Hung Kai Financial, told Dow Jones Newswires: "We've had a slew of weaker-than-expected economic data for February, so the HSBC flash PMI at least sooths some worries about the Chinese economy."

In the United States the Federal Reserve ended its latest policy meeting saying it would keep its $85 billion-a-month easing policy in place until the economy had stabilised.

It also said economic growth had rebounded from the flat 2012 fourth quarter to a moderate pace in recent months but trimmed its full-year outlook owing to Europe's woes and huge cuts in US federal spending that kicked in on March 1.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the policy committee "remains concerned that restrictive fiscal policies may slow economic growth and job creation in coming months".

The announcement lifted US stocks, with the Dow up 0.39 percent, the S&P 500 adding 0.67 percent and the Nasdaq ending 0.78 percent higher.

On currency markets the euro and dollar eased against the yen, having enjoyed healthy gains in New York trade.

The euro bought $1.2923 and 123.90 yen in Asia Thursday, compared with $1.2937 and 124.17 yen in New York late Wednesday. The dollar fetched 95.84 yen against 95.98 yen.

Later Thursday in Nicosia political leaders will decide on a newly drawn up plan to secure a bailout after parliament rejected a controversial tax on savings, fuelling fears it could fail to meet its debt obligations.

President Nicos Anastasiades was to "present a Plan B package to party leaders tomorrow at the presidential palace", state television reported.

"The impression is that the worst-case scenario would be averted, although the whole problem also reminded us that the European debt crisis is far from being completely solved," Daisaku Ueno, senior forex strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley, said.

Global markets fell on Monday after Cyprus unveiled a proposal to tax bank savings up to 9.9 percent as part of an agreement with the European Union to qualify for a 10 billion euro bailout.

Oil prices were softer, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, dropping 38 cents to $93.12 a barrel while Brent North Sea crude for May delivery was down 17 cents to $108.73 55.

Gold was at $1,608.40 an ounce at 0810 GMT compared with $1,610.87 late Wednesday.

In other markets:

-- Wellington slipped 0.16 percent, or 6.93 points, to 4,342.51.

Mainfreight fell 4.7 percent to NZ$11.20 and Telecom eased 1.3 percent to NZ$2.23, while Fletcher Building was up 1.6 percent at NZ$8.71.

-- Manila closed 0.83 percent higher, adding 53.36 points to 6,472.98.

The index had lost 5.79 percent over the previous eight sessions.

SM Investments rose 0.29 percent to 1,025 pesos, Philippine Long Distance Telephone added 3.23 percent to 2,810 pesos and Megaworld Corp. was 2.22 percent up at 3.69 pesos.

-- Taipei rose 0.18 percent, or 13.81 points, to 7,811.84.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co was 0.10 percent lower at Tw$98.7 while HTC shed 3.04 percent to Tw$239.0.