* Asian shares inch ahead as S&P climbs new peaks
* Tech stocks boosted by Apple, Facebook hits record high
* Emerging markets buoyed as investors seek yield
* NZ dollar skids as RBNZ signals pause after latest rate rise
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, July 24 (Reuters) - Asian stocks inched higher on Thursday, encouraged by upbeat corporate results and a record close on Wall Street, while unrest in the Middle East and Ukraine underpinned demand for high-rated bonds.
There was an air of caution ahead of a manufacturing survey from China and a horde of other countries over the day. The HSBC flash PMI is expected to inch up to 51 in July, which would gel with other signs of stabilisation in the economy.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up a slim 0.09 percent.
Japan’s Nikkei eked out a 0.1 percent gain, while South Korea’s market added 0.2 percent despite data showing the country’s economy grew at the slowest pace in more than a year in the second quarter. Seoul was expected to announce stimulus measures later in the morning in a bid to counter weak domestic demand and sluggish exports.
Traders noted that, despite all the geopolitical risk, money was clearly flowing back into emerging markets in search for yield. MSCI’s index of emerging equities had jumped in the past two sessions to reach its highest since January 2013.
“Emerging markets continue to be main benefactor from the mix of low volatility, improving global growth and supportive central banks,” said analysts at Barclays in a note.
Helping sentiment is that the U.S. earnings season is turning out better than first feared. Barclays estimates that of the 22 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported quarterly results since July 1, 64 percent beat earnings expectations and 65 percent beat revenue estimates.
Apple Inc gave one of the biggest lifts to the market, rising 2.6 percent as concerns faded about the iPhone maker’s margins. Facebook Inc also beat forecasts and its stock climbed almost 5 percent after hours.
All of which helped the Nasdaq gain 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.2 percent.
The Dow bucked the trend, pulled lower by a 2.3 percent drop in Boeing Co shares. The U.S. aircraft maker reported a 52 percent jump in quarterly profit, but investors were spooked by rising costs in its military tanker program.
The Dow closed down 0.2 percent.
Still, the prospect of more sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and a downed Malaysian airliner maintained a safety bid for high-rated bonds. German 10-year yields fell to 1.147 percent, just shy of record lows.
For U.S. Treasuries, investors were buying more liquid shorter-dated paper, nudging two-year yields down to 0.4715 percent.
In currencies, the New Zealand dollar led the action by skidding to a six-week low after the country’s central bank signalled a pause following its fourth straight rate hike.
The kiwi dollar dropped nearly a full U.S. cent to $0.8606 after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) raised rates by 25 basis points to 3.5 percent, but said it was time to wait and gauge the impact of its recent policy tightening on the economy.
Activity elsewhere was limited with the euro stuck at eight-month lows around $1.3461, leaving the dollar index hovering at a six-week peak.
Against the yen, the U.S. dollar firmed a tad to 101.54 , recovering slowly from the recent low of 101.09.
In commodities, gold was behind in the beauty competition with equities and eased to $1,303.99 an ounce.
Crude oil prices were mixed. Brent crude for September delivery added 6 cents to $108.09 a barrel, while U.S. crude eased 6 cents to $103.06. (Editing by Kim Coghill)