By Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch
LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- Asian stocks sat mostly lower Monday amid concerns about the U.S. fiscal cliff, but with Chinese shares gaining ground after manufacturing data showed that sector extending its recovery.
Volume was reportedly light as many markets were shut for holiday or on a shortened trading day.
With U.S. lawmakers yet to make a deal to avert the host of austerity measures known as the "fiscal cliff" due to begin taking effect Tuesday, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5%, Singapore's Straits Times Index dropped 0.9%, and New Zealand's NZX 50 lost 0.4%.
Bourses in Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan were all closed for holiday, though Japanese Nikkei Stock Average futures were down 0.7% in Singapore trade.
In China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index opened lower but later clawed back up to the flat-line after the upbeat Chinese manufacturing data from HSBC, while the Shanghai Composite Index also bucked the downtrend to rise 0.8%, extending its recent gains.
HSBC reported Monday morning that its China manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index rose to a final reading of 51.5, an upward revision from the preliminary 50.9 result and an improvement from November's PMI of 50.5.
The result was the best for the data set since May 2011, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
Major advances in Hong Kong included a 1.8% rise for auto maker BYD Co. (002594.SZ), a 2.8% improvement for luggage manufacturer Samsonite International SA (SMSOF), and a 2.3% gain for food company Want Want China Holdings Ltd. (WWNTF).
Shares of brokerages and insurers were also among the leading gainers in Hong Kong, continuing their recent rally. China Everbright Ltd. (0165.HK) jumped another 2.8%, Haitong Securities Co. rose 1.8%, China Life Insurance Co. (LFC) added 1.6%, and Ping An Insurance Group Co. (PNGAY) improved by 1%.
The insurers' gains were even more pronounced for their Shanghai-listed shares, with Ping An rising 2.3%, and China Life surging 3.3%, while among banks, China Merchants Bank Co. (600036.SH) added 2.9% and Bank of Communications Co. (601328.SH) improved by 1.9%.
The situation for resource shares was more mixed, as concern about the fiscal cliff weighed, with Hong Kong-listed shares of Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd. (ACH) and Angang Steel Co. (ANGGY) losing 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively.
In Sydney, where the mining sector occupies an outsized weighting on the benchmark index, resource shares were significantly weaker, with Alumina Ltd. (AWC) losing 1.6%, Rio Tinto Ltd. (RIO) falling 0.9%, and Newcrest Mining Ltd. (NCMGF) retreating 1.3%.
Among the few major gainers in Sydney, Fairfax Media Ltd. (FFXLF) rallied 8.4% after Australian media magnate John Singleton's Gutenberg Investments took a stake in the company
According to a filing, the Gutenberg stake was associated with that of major shareholder and mining magnate Gina Rinehart, with the pair's combined voting power at 15.14%.
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