By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian stocks edged higher on Thursday as U.S. tech earnings impressed and a surprisingly strong reading on Chinese manufacturing bolstered hopes for recovery in the world's second-biggest economy.
The HSBC flash PMI for China came in at 52.0 for July, well above forecasts of a small rise to 51 in July and the highest reading in 18 months. There was also good news on the outlook, with a sub-index of new orders reaching 53.7.
The news injected some life into a sluggish session and helped China's CSI300 index of leading Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share jump 1.9 percent.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.2 percent, and Australia notched another six-year peak.
Japan's export figures were not so bright and the Nikkei fell 0.3 percent. South Korea's benchmark index dipped 0.1 percent after data showed the economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a year, leading Seoul to launch a package of stimulus measures. [TOP/CEN]
European socks also looked set for a subdued start with financial spreadbetters predicting losses of 0.1 to 0.2 percent for the FTSE 100, DAX and CAC 40.
Yet traders noted that money was clearly flowing back into emerging markets in search for yield. MSCI's index of emerging equities had jumped in the past two sessions to reach its highest since January 2013.
"Emerging markets continue to be main benefactor from the mix of low volatility, improving global growth and supportive central banks," analysts at Barclays said in a note.
Helping sentiment is the U.S. earnings season turning out better than first feared. Barclays estimates that of the 22 percent of S&P 500 companies have reported quarterly results since July 1, 64 percent beat earnings expectations and 65 percent beat revenue estimates.
Apple Inc rose 2.6 percent as concerns faded about the iPhone maker's margins. Facebook Inc beat forecasts and its stock climbed 5.5 percent after hours.
All this helped the Nasdaq gain 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.2 percent.
The Dow bucked the trend, pulled lower by a 2.3 percent drop in Boeing Co shares. The U.S. aircraft maker reported a 52 percent jump in quarterly profit, but investors were spooked by rising costs in its military tanker program.
The Dow closed down 0.2 percent.
NZ DOLLAR SKIDS
The prospect of more sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and the downed Malaysian airliner maintained a safety bid for high-rated bonds.
For U.S. Treasuries, investors were buying more liquid shorter-dated paper, nudging two-year yields down to 0.48 percent.
In currencies, the New Zealand dollar led the action by skidding to a six-week low after the country's central bank took a verbal axe to the currency, saying its high level was unjustified.
The kiwi dollar dropped a full U.S. cent to $0.8586 when the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) raised rates to 3.5 percent, but said it was prudent to pause on policy after four straight hikes.
The Australian dollar climbed as much as a quarter of a U.S. cent higher as the improving Chinese outlook promised to support demand for the country's resource exports.
Activity elsewhere was limited, with the euro stuck at eight-month lows around $1.3460, leaving the dollar index hovering at a six-week peak.
Against the yen, the U.S. dollar idled at 101.43, recovering only slowly from the recent low of 101.09.
In commodities, gold was lagging behind in the beauty contest with equities and eased to $1,296.90 an ounce.
Crude oil prices ran into renewed selling after a bounce on Wednesday. Brent crude for September delivery eased a cent to $108.02 a barrel, while U.S. crude lost 22 cents to $102.90.
(Editing by Kim Coghill and Eric Meijer)