* China PMI meets consensus forecasts, markets unmoved
* Aussie plunges after inflation surprisingly low
* Risk sentiment bolstered by gains in US, Europe
* Major currencies in tight range
By Wayne Cole and Vidya Ranganathan
SYDNEY/SINGAPORE, April 23 Asian stock markets
were little moved on Wednesday after a Chinese manufacturing
survey met expectations, but the Australian dollar plunged to a
two-week low after data showed surprisingly low inflation in
that country's economy.
Investors hoping that the Chinese HSBC manufacturing PMI
data for April would show some stabilisation in the slowing
economy were relieved when the survey came in at 48.3, still in
contractionary territory but slightly above the March number.
Asian shares barely reacted to that data although China's
stock markets, both the Shanghai Composite Index and the
China Enterprises Index of the leading offshore Chinese
listings in Hong Kong, were about a quarter of a percent weaker.
The Aussie fell after data showing Australian consumer price
inflation was a surprisingly low 0.6 percent last quarter.
The currency slid more than half a U.S. cent to
$0.9295 in reaction to the soft inflation reading. Interbank
futures <0#YIB:> rallied as the market pared back the risk that
the Reserve Bank of Australia will have to raise interest rates
before the year-end.
"The fall in the Aussie was quite large considering that
interest rate markets weren't pricing a hike until mid-2015
anyway," said Sean Callow, currency strategist at Westpac.
"The slide gives the impression that Aussie bears have been
waiting for a reason to bash it and are jumping on the
Australia already has high yields relative to its rich world
peers which, combined with improving economic data, has been
attracting offshore money into the local dollar.
Other Asian stock markets crept higher following
merger-driven gains in Europe and on Wall Street.
Japan's Nikkei put on 0.7 percent while Australia's
main index edged up 0.5 percent. MSCI's broadest index
of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat.
The better mood owed much to Wall Street where the Dow
rose 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.41
percent and the Nasdaq 0.97 percent.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares
jumped 1.34 percent on Tuesday.
CHINA INFUSES CASH
On Tuesday, China's central bank said it will cut the amount
of deposits rural banks must hold as reserves by between 0.5 and
2 percentage points, the latest in a series of measures to help
combat a slowing economy.
"The impact of a selective RRR cut is still limited as it
will only inject as much as RMB100 billion liquidity into the
system," noted analysts at ANZ.
"We would treat the move as a signal which reflects that the
accommodative monetary policy stance will be maintained over the
foreseeable future, given that the real economy is expected to
remain lukewarm and inflation pressures are mild."
The U.S. dollar was otherwise sidelined at 102.60 yen
and $1.3814 per euro, having held to tight ranges for
some days now.
In the United States and Europe all the talk was of mergers,
this time in the pharmaceutical sector.
AstraZeneca climbed 4.7 percent after the Sunday
Times newspaper reported that Pfizer approached its
British rival with a 60 billion pound ($101 billion) takeover
offer. Pfizer rose 1.2 percent to $31.23.
GlaxoSmithKline rose 5.2 percent after it agreed to
sell its oncology products to Novartis for $14.5
billion. Novartis' shares added 2.3 percent.
In commodity markets, U.S. crude futures fell ahead of data
expected to show that U.S. inventories have risen close to
record highs. Brent also fell but was cushioned by continued
concerns over the stand-off in Eastern Ukraine.
Brent crude was quoted 17 cents firmer at $109.44 a
barrel, after reaching a six-week high of $110.36 last week.
U.S. crude added 11 cents to $101.86 a barrel.
Gold remained out of favour after touching its lowest in
more than two months on Tuesday, weighed down by gains in Wall
Street stocks and as outflows from physical gold funds pointed
to weak investment appetite.
Early Wednesday, spot gold was trading at $1,284.4 an
ounce, just off a trough of $1,277.10.
(Editing by Chris Gallagher)