Marketmind: Japan leads the way, China feels the heat

A man watches stock quotations on an electronic board outside a brokerage, in Tokyo

By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) - A look at the day ahead in Asian markets from Jamie McGeever.

Investors in Asia go into Thursday with some major economic indicators from Japan and Australia and an interest rate decision from the Philippines on tap, and a spring in their step as hopes rise that a deal on the U.S. debt ceiling is in sight.

The optimism was reflected in the broad rally on Wall Street on Wednesday that pushed the three main U.S. indexes up more than 1%, the dollar to a seven-week high, and saw one-month U.S. Treasury bill yields slide sharply - the steepest fall in three weeks.

President Joe Biden and top U.S. congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday reiterated their determination to strike a deal soon to raise the $31.4 trillion federal debt ceiling and avoid a catastrophic default.

Asian markets, particularly China's, will be hoping this sparks a recovery from Wednesday's decline following yet another batch of sub-par Chinese economic indicators.

The Chinese yuan fell below 7.00 per dollar for the first time in nearly six months and with GDP forecasts being slashed, analysts reckon the yuan could be poised for more weakness. Citi's Chinese economic surprises index had its biggest fall in two years and one of the steepest on record.

It's a different story in Japan. First quarter GDP growth smashed expectations, the Nikkei rose above 30,000 points for the first time in 20 months, and the broader Topix index hit its highest level in 33 years.

Japanese trade data for April is out on Thursday, with economists expecting a notable slowdown in import and export activity, and a narrowing of the trade surplus.

Australian unemployment figures for April are also on tap. Economists polled by Reuters expect the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.5% and net new job growth to slow to 25,000.

The Philippines central bank, meanwhile, will likely leave its key interest rate unchanged at 6.25% after nine straight hikes and keep it there for the rest of 2023, marking an end to a year-long tightening cycle as inflation shows signs of cooling.

Although annual inflation slowed to 6.6% in April, it remains well above the central bank's target range of 2-4%, suggesting policymakers are in no rush to ease policy any time soon.

On the corporate front, Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is expected to report a 3% increase in revenue to CNY210.154 billion from CNY204.05 billion a year ago, according to the mean estimate from 21 analysts, based on Refinitiv data.

Here are three key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Thursday:

- Australia unemployment (April)

- Japan trade (April)

- Alibaba results (full-year 2023)

(By Jamie McGeever; editing by Deepa Babington)