Asian shares mixed, China manufacturing improves

Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday following another Wall Street rally while a provisional report showed a slight improvement in Chinese manufacturing activity this month.

The dollar held on to recent gains against the yen, with traders keeping watch on US President Barack Obama's visit to Asia that starts in Japan later in the day.

Tokyo rose 0.57 percent by the break, Sydney gained 0.69 percent and Seoul was up 0.21 percent but Shanghai eased 0.23 percent and Hong Kong was 0.30 percent off.

HSBC said its preliminary purchasing managers index (PMI) for China came in at 48.3 in April, up from 48.0 in March. While the figures points to a continuing contraction in manufacturing activity in the Asian economic giant, the rate has slowed.

A figure below 50 suggests shrinkage, while anything above points to growth.

The result will provide a little comfort to traders about the Chinese economy after data last week showed it grew 7.4 percent year on year in January-March, more than expected but sharply down from the previous three months.

"Domestic demand showed mild improvement and deflationary pressures eased, but downside risks to growth are still evident as both new export orders and employment contracted," HSBC economist Qu Hongbin said in a statement, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Eyes are now on the release of early PMI figures for Europe and the United States later in the day after recent figures have pointed to a pick-up in the global economy.

On currency markets the dollar bought 102.63 yen against 102.60 yen in New York Tuesday, while the euro bought $1.3802 and 141.69 yen, compared with $1.3804 and 141.65 yen.

The Australian dollar fell to 93.14 US cents from 93.75 cents after data showed Australian inflation was lower than expected in the first three months of the year. The figures raise the possibility the country's central bank will lower interest rates to boost the faltering economy.

In New York the three main indexes enjoyed another positive day following a series of deals between pharmaceutical giants Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly that shuffled more than $20 billion in assets.

Added to that were solid or strong earnings from Comcast, Lockheed Martin, Netflix, Travelers and Xerox, among others.

The S&P 500 added 0.41 percent and the Nasdaq jumped 0.97 percent, with each index clocking up a sixth successive advance after earlier this month suffering heavy selling.

The Dow climbed 0.40 percent, a third straight gain.

Analysts will be watching Obama's three-day visit -- the start of an Asian trip -- for any mention of a Pacific-wide trade zone that has stumbled in recent weeks over differences between the US and Japan on the auto and agriculture sectors.

Oil prices were up. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for June delivery, was up six cents at $101.81 in early Asian trading. Brent North Sea crude for June rose 16 cents to $109.43.

Gold fetched $1,283.97 an ounce at 0242 GMT, compared with $1,291.73 on Tuesday.