GLOBAL MARKETS-Japan stocks rally, brush off China data miss

Thu May 1, 2014 2:27am EDT

* China PMI a tick under forecasts at 50.4, offers little clarity

* Nikkei bounces as Wall St proves resilient to poor US GDP

* Fed keeps upbeat outlook, investors give it benefit of doubt

By Wayne Cole

SYDNEY, May 1 (Reuters) - Asian markets suffered only a brief wobble on Thursday as data on China's vast manufacturing sector just missed forecasts, with upbeat earnings news helping Japanese stocks stage their biggest rally in two weeks.

Holidays across most of Asia muted the reaction when Beijing's official measure of manufacturing activity came in at 50.4 in April, up a tick from March but under forecasts of 50.5.

The middling outcome was not enough to lessen concerns about the economy, but neither did it point to a deepening slowdown.

There was also better news from South Korea as its exports grew at the fastest annual pace in over a year, suggesting the recovery in global demand was gathering energy after a soft start to the year.

The conflicted mood was clear in the Australian dollar, often a bellwether for market thinking on China given the country is a major exporter of resources to the Asian giant.

After an initial dip to $0.9279, the currency quickly rebounded to $0.9290 to be a shade firmer on the day.

Japan's Nikkei likewise recovered to close 1.3 percent higher thanks in part to some impressive profit reports.

Nomura Holdings jumped 6.3 percent in heavy trade after posting upbeat earnings and announcing a share buyback plan. Rival Daiwa Securities Group gained 3.1 percent following its own earnings.

Brokerage shares gained 4.7 percent, by far the top performer among the Tokyo Stock Exchange's 33 industry subindexes.

With so many markets shut, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan hardly moved.

Sentiment had been supported somewhat by Wall Street where the Dow notched up its first record high of the year. The Dow ended up 0.27 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq 0.27 percent.

That was a resilient performance given that data had shown the U.S. economy grew just 0.1 percent annualised in the first quarter, far below already gloomy forecasts of 1.2 percent.

Net exports, inventories and investment all dragged on growth, with household spending the only bright spot.

FED STAYS HOPEFUL

Still, investors have been willing to give the economy the benefit of the doubt in expectations of a rebound this quarter, and other data did offer some supporting evidence.

A closely watched indicator of manufacturing activity in the Chicago area jumped to 63.0 in April, to be well above forecasts, while the ADP report on private sector employment showed a rise of 220,000.

That fuelled hopes the April payrolls report on Friday would at least meet forecasts of a 210,000 increase in jobs.

The Federal Reserve was certainly ready to look on the bright side, ending its policy meeting with a relatively upbeat statement as it pared back bond buying by another $10 billion.

Recent information "indicates that growth in economic activity has picked up ... after having slowed sharply during the winter in part because of adverse weather conditions," the central bank said after a two-day meeting.

Yet investors in bonds and currencies were less impressed, taking yields and the dollar lower. Yields on 10-year Treasuries fell 4 basis points to 2.65 percent, while those on two-year notes dropped 3 basis points to 0.41 percent in a sharp move for that tenor.

Interest rate futures also rallied <0#FF:> as the market pushed back the likely timing of a first hike by the Fed.

That in turn weighed on the U.S. dollar, which dropped to three-week lows against a basket of major currencies.

Pressure on the greenback helped the euro bounce to $1.3874 from a three-week trough of $1.3770. Against the yen, the dollar was at 102.24, having lost 0.4 percent overnight.

In commodity markets, oil stayed under pressure after stocks of the fuel in the United States hit a record high.

Brent crude for June delivery was flat at $108.07 on Thursday having shed over a dollar overnight, while June U.S. crude eased a further 2 cents to $99.72.

Spot gold also fared poorly to stand at $1,289.24 an ounce, after easing 0.4 percent on Wednesday. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Chris Gallagher)