Asia Markets

Asia stocks little changed as data shows China's exports unexpectedly rose in April

Key Points
  • Asia Pacific stocks were little changed on Thursday.
  • The Caixin/Markit services Purchasing Managers' Index for April came in at 44.4, Reuters reported Thursday, off the 50-level that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.
  • China also reported Thursday that its dollar-denominated exports rose but imports fell in April as movement restrictions to curb the coronavirus outbreak were eased. 
  • Markets in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were closed on Thursday for holidays.

Stocks in Asia Pacific were little changed on Thursday as a data release showed China's exports for April exceeding expectations, though a private survey showed the country's services sector slumping in the same month.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 added 0.28% to close at 19,674.77 as shares of Tokyo Electron jumped 3.16% while the Topix index shed 0.32% to end its trading day at 1,426.73. South Korea's Kospi closed largely flat at 1,928.61.

Mainland Chinese stocks dipped on the day, with the Shanghai composite 0.23% lower at about 2,871.52 while the Shenzhen composite slipped 0.115% to around 1,788.21. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 0.74%, as of its final hour of trading.

Shares in Australia slipped, with the S&P/ASX 200 closing 0.38% lower at 5,364.20.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index declined 0.32%. Markets in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were closed on Thursday for holidays.

On the economic data front, China reported Thursday that its dollar-denominated exports rose but imports fell in April as movement restrictions to curb the coronavirus outbreak were eased. 

Data from the General Administration of Customs released on Thursday showed exports rose 3.5% from a year ago while imports fell 14.2% in the same period. Economists polled by Reuters had expected exports to have fallen 15.7% in April from a year earlier while imports were expected to have fallen 11.2% from a year earlier.

"Goods exports were much better than expected in April," economists at Oxford Economics wrote in a note. Still, they warned: "We think the pick-up in exports is temporary and export momentum will fall in the coming months."

"The outlook for exports is clearly challenged by faltering external demand as China's key trading partners fall into a deep recession due to the effects of lockdowns and social distancing measures adopted amid the coronavirus spread," the economists said.

Meanwhile, China's Caixin/Markit services Purchasing Managers' Index for April showed that the country's services sector slumped for the third straight month, as layoffs hit a record, according to Reuters. It came in at 44.4, an improvement from the 43 reading in March — but still off the 50-level that separates growth from contraction.

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 fell for the first time in three days.

The moves stateside came as a report from ADP and Moody's Analytics showed private payrolls were cut by 20.2 million last month — the worst print in the data series' history. Still, that was not as bad as a Dow Jones estimate of 22 million job losses.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, last traded 101.132 after crossing the 100 mark yesterday. 

The Japanese yen traded at 106.22 per dollar after strengthening from levels above 106.5 seen earlier this week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6438 after seeing an earlier low of $0.6375.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 1.31% to $29.33 per barrel. U.S. crude futures slipped 1.42% to $23.65 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert and Huileng Tan contributed to this report.