Asia Stocks Little Changed as China Manufacturing Growth

Asian stocks were little changed this week, with a regional benchmark index easing off a three-week high after gauges showed growth slowing in Chinese manufacturing and as Thai shares dropped amid prolonged political unrest.

China Coal Energy Co., the nation’s No. 2 producer of the fuel, fell 7.4 percent in Hong Kong. Siam Commercial Bank PCL tumbled 7.7 percent, dragging Thailand’s SET Index 5.7 percent lower amid concern prolonged unrest will spur capital outflows from Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy. Newcrest Mining Ltd. rose 11 percent in Sydney, leading gold producers higher, as the precious metal rebounded from its worst year since 1981.

The MSCI Asia Pacific excluding Japan Index slipped to 140.31 from 140.33 a week earlier. Japanese markets were closed for four days this week and most markets were shut Jan. 1 for the New Year holiday.

“The balance of risks to growth in China is something investors need to be aware of this year,” Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said in a telephone interview. “We are now in a world where there is a lot more political risk.”

Global equities added about $9.6 trillion in 2013 as central bank-stimulus helped the U.S. economy gain momentum and Europe recover from its longest recession. The MSCI Asia Pacific excluding Japan Index ended last year at a three-week high and traded at 11.8 times forward earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with a multiple of 15.3 on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

China Manufacturing

China’s manufacturing purchasing managers’ index fell to 51 for December 51.4 in November, according to the National Bureau of Statistics and the nation’s logistics federation. That trailed the median economist forecast of 51.2. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

A separate manufacturing PMI gauge from HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics slipped to 50.5 from 50.8 in November, in line with the median of 17 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. A separate gauge of China’s non-manufacturing fell to a four-month low.

China Coal dropped 7.4 percent this week to HK$4.12 in Hong Kong. Yanzhou Coal Mining Co Ltd. declined 11.5 percent to HK$6.36. China Shenhua Energy Co Ltd. fell 6.5 percent to HK$22.85.

Thailand Unrest

Banks and tourism-related companies led losses in Thailand. Siam Commercial Bank lost 7.7 percent to 132.50 baht. Bangkok Bank PCL, the nation’s largest commercial lender, fell 5.3 percent to 168.50 baht and Kasikornbank PCL slid 3.2 percent to 151.00 baht. Airports of Thailand PCL slipped 8.5 percent to 145.00 baht.

Thailand’s Election Commission is meeting members of the biggest political parties to discuss ways to ease tension before a Feb. 2 vote that’s being threatened by growing anti-government protests.

Groups opposed to caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plan to surround government ministries and occupy 20 major intersections in Bangkok on Jan. 13 until she agrees to step down and allow an unelected council to reform the country’s electoral system, said Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition lawmaker who is leading the movement.

The nation’s Election Commission last night proposed delaying polls to around April or May, while reforms are carried out concurrently to ease political tensions, Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn told reporters. Global investors pulled $1.3 billion from Thai stocks last month, exchange data show.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.9 percent. South Korea’s Kospi Index dropped 2.8 percent, while Taiwan’s Taiex Index rose 0.1 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index added 0.5 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index declined 1.8 percent. New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index was little changed.

Singapore Growth

Singapore’s Straits Times Index lost 0.6 percent as the country’s economy shrank for the first time in five quarters after its manufacturing and services industries weakened.

India’s S&P BSE Sensex Index dropped 1.6 percent as a decline in a manufacturing gauge sparked concerns about growth in Asia’s third-largest economy. A purchasing managers’ index released by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics fell to 50.7 in December from November’s 51.3. The Reserve Bank of India raised its key interest rate twice last year to rein in the region’s fastest consumer-price gains.

Japan Surges

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average rose 0.7 percent on Dec. 30 to cap a 57 percent advance for 2013, its best year since 1972. That was the biggest gain among 24 developed markets tracked by Bloomberg last year. The yen posted its steepest annual drop since 1979. Stocks surged and the currency weakened as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took steps to end 15 years of deflation. Japanese equity markets reopen Jan. 6.

Gold producers advanced as bullion prices rebounded from last year’s slide. Newcrest Mining advanced 11 percent to A$8.67. Beadell Resources Ltd. gained 11 percent to 82.5 Australian cents.

Forge Group Ltd. surged 39 percent to A$1.42 after the engineering services firm said its contract in the Roy Hill mine project in Western Australia is worth about A$830 million ($745 million).

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