Asian markets

Asian markets remained mixed in the morning session as official and a private-sector China manufacturing survey indicated weakness in the sector.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei average index gained 0.06 percent or 6.36 points to 11565.72 while South Korea's KOSPI added 1.12 percent or 22.45 points to 2026.49.

China's Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.08 percent or 1.89 points to 2363.71. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.27 percent or 62.09 points to 22958.18. The Sino-sensitive S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.46 percent or 23.60 points to 5080.50 in Sydney.

China's official and HSBC manufacturing reports released early in the data dominated investor sentiments across the region.

Data published by the National Bureau of Statistics and China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing showed that the purchasing managers index stood at 50.1 in February, down from 50.4. This was below the analysts' expectations of a 50.5 reading.

HSBC's final PMI reading for the month also showed slowdown in conditions, with the index dropping to 50.4 from January's two-year peak of 52.3.

Although the slowdown is considered marginal as a reading above 50 indicates expansion in the sector, the data points to the pressures on China's incoming government. It also adds to pressures on China's central bank to refrain from resorting to any monetary tightening measures for the moment.

But analysts are quick to warn that the data could be distorted by seasonal differences in Chinese New Year holidays, which fell in January in 2012 and in February this year.

"The reading could weigh on the market sentiment on the margin. Nonetheless, we remind investors that China's monthly macro data in Jan and Feb are significantly distorted by the different timing of the Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday," said analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

"We believe the Chinese economy is still on a cyclical upturn and the market impact for the below-than-consensus PMI figure should be limited."

Economic indicators from Japan also remained lacklustre. Official figures released by the country's statistics bureau showed that consumer prices declined for the third straight month in January, underscoring inflationary pressures that plague the country.

The data comes after the Bank of Japan decided to raise its inflation targets to 2 percent and take up open-ended asset purchase plans in January. The country's new government believes that boosting prices is the key to Japan's economic recovery.

South Korea trade figures released during the day showed that the country's exports and imports fell year-on-year in February despite recording a surplus for the 13<sup>th straight month. According to the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, shipments fell 8.6 percent while imports were down 10.7 percent.

Major Movers

Commodity stocks fell in Hong Kong. Citic Pacific traded 3.52 percent lower while CNOOC was down 2.10 percent. Aluminum Corp of China fell 1.49 percent.

Resource stocks dropped in mainland China as well. Jiangxi Copper was down 2.27 percent while Angang Stell fell 1.07 percent.