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ASIA MARKETS: Japan Earnings, China Data On Tap For Asia

By Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- Key Japanese earnings and Chinese manufacturing data will likely be key to trading action in Asia in the coming week. With Japan's earnings season in full swing, a number of closely watched blue chips are due to announce interim results. Honda Motor Co. (HMC) and Panasonic Corp. (PC) are slated for Monday, Hitachi Ltd. (HIT) results are due Tuesday, and Sony Corp. (SNE) and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) are set to announce on Wednesday. Many of these firms have seen their production -- just recovering from March's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami -- hit by flooding in Thailand, shutting their plants or those of their suppliers. Sony, for instance, said earlier this month that it would delay the launch of new digital cameras due to Thailand-related production issues, while Honda has seen the disaster shut production lines in the Southeast Asian country. Analysts will be watching closely for these companies' earnings outlooks and any effect from the Thai situation, as well as from a persistently strong Japanese yen that has eaten into overseas profit. The U.S. dollar has fallen to around the  ¥76 level, down from around  ¥81 this time a year ago. The earnings themselves may show some of the lingering post-quake production issues from early in the quarter. Honda, for instance, is expected to post a 61% drop in second-quarter profit, according to the median forecast from a Reuters survey. Meanwhile, a pair of key surveys of China's manufacturing sector are scheduled for release Tuesday, and are expected to show an improvement from the previous month. Last week, HSBC released the preliminary results of its China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, which showed a return to growth. The so-called "flash" results, based on the initial 85% to 90% of responses to the survey, yielded a reading of 51.1, up from September's 49.9 result and above the 50 level that separates overall expansion from contraction. The coming week will see the release of the full HSBC survey, along with a government-sponsored version from the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, which tends to be more weighted towards larger companies. Chinese stocks in particular tend to react significantly to the survey results, which also include sub-component indexes on input and output prices that will be closely watched for clues to whether the central bank will ease policy in the near term. Meanwhile, Australia's central bank will also be in focus, with a policy decision due out Tuesday. With third-quarter consumer inflation coming in at relatively mild levels, speculation has grown that the Reserve Bank of Australia will trim interest rates. Also due out from Down Under in the coming week are Australian retail sales for September, slated for Thursday, and earnings from Westpac Banking Corp. (WBK).

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