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Asia: Stocks mixed on patchy US economic data

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[HONG KONG] Asian stocks were mixed in early trading Thursday, as gains on Wall Steet drove trading in Tokyo but patchy US economic data fed wider uncertainty in the region.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday the US service sector expanded 4.3 per cent in July to a record high, but payroll firm ADP estimated the US private sector added 185,000 jobs in July, below analysts' estimate for 220,000 additional jobs.

In early trading, Tokyo rose 0.66 per cent, Sydney fell 0.69 per cent on a major bank's share sale and unemployment figures, and Seoul lost 0.29 per cent.

Shanghai fell 0.89 per cent, following a sharp drop in opening trade, while Hong Kong was down 0.63 per cent.

The US data strengthened the case for an earlier interest rate hike from the Fed, analysts said, weakening the yen and providing a boost for Japanese stocks.

A weak yen is positive for Japanese exports but pushes up import costs.

"The weaker currency will be a tailwind for Japanese stocks. We'll still see a focus on individual earnings results," Yutaka Miura, a technical analyst at Mizuho Securities, told Bloomberg News.

The Bank of Japan begins a two-day meeting Thursday, with all eyes on signs for when policymakers may launch further easing measures.

Australian shares fell after ANZ Bank announced a share sale worth A$2.5 billion (S$2.53 billion), while the Aussie dollar weakened after unemployment unexpectedly jumped to 6.3 per cent in July.

Losses in Shanghai for a second day compounded fears for the Chinese economy.

The Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled nearly 30 per cent from its highest point in June over fears for the health of the world's second-biggest economy.

The government has restricted short selling, suspended initial public offerings (IPOs) and allowed some companies to halt trading, while funding a state-backed firm to buy stocks, but the measures may be hitting investor confidence, analysts believe.

"The market needs its own strength to recover," Zhang Haidong, chief strategist at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai, told Bloomberg News.

"The coming economic data don't seem to be good and will add additional pressure," he said, referring to export and trade data due out this weekend.

AFP