Asian stocks traded mixed on Thursday, with Chinese shares significantly lower after a lower-than-expected preliminary reading of mainland manufacturing activity. Trading was subdued as investors stay on the sidelines before a gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole later in the day.
HSBC flash China purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to a 3-month low in August, coming in at 50.3. The reading is much lower than a Reuters poll expecting 51.5 and following an 18-month high of 51.7 in July.
U.S. stocks ended mostly higher on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting showed that some Fed officials want a "relatively prompt" rate hike based on the economy's progress.
After rising above its record close of 1,987.98 set on July 24, the S&P 500 ended up 0.3 percent at 1,986.51, less than 5 points from its intraday record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.4 percent while the tech-heavy Nasdaq was little changed.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the beheading of an American journalist by Islamist militants and vowed the U.S. would do what it must to protect its citizens. The U.S. State Department has requested additional military personnel in Iraq, according to Reuters.
In eastern Europe, Kiev-backed forces are steadily gaining the upper hand in eastern Ukraine and are tightening the battle around main rebel bastions of Donetsk and Lyhansk.
Meanwhile, the war in Gaza rages on, with Hamas saying on Wednesday that an Israeli air strike killed the wife and infant son of its leader, Mohammad Deif, in an attempt to assassinate him after the collapse of a ceasefire.