Asian shares rose Tuesday after modest gains on Wall Street, but remained deep in negative territory for the month, while gold hit another record above $1,910 an ounce as investor remained anxious.
Markets took heart from HSBC's China flash purchasing managers' index, which, although showing China's factory sector was likely to slow slightly for a second consecutive month in August, indicated the second-largest economy was still growing robustly.
It suggests there's still plenty going on and it's business as usual, Martin Angel, a dealer at Patersons Securities in Australia, told Reuters.
The euro remained under pressure as traders awaited flash PMI data for Germany, France and the euro zone, with a weak number likely to exacerbate fears about the region.
Japan's Nikkei share average .N225 rose 0.7 percent on Tuesday, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS gained 1.5 percent.
The MSCI index is down around 14 percent for the month, and about 19 percent below its April high. A decline of 20 percent or more is the rule-of-thumb definition of a bear market.
World stocks have been tumbling since the beginning of August -- and perceived safe havens such as gold, U.S. Treasuries and Japanese government bonds have rallied -- on fears of a slide back into recession for the United States and growing concerns that Europe's politicians are failing to contain its sovereign debt crisis.
Today's gain is likely a technical rebound, with the lack of political momentum from the United States and Europe on resolutions to their economic issues leaving investors with little conviction, said Han Chi-hwan, a market analyst at Daewoo Securities in Seoul.
Most markets extended gains after the Chinese flash PMI from HSBC, designed to preview China's factory output before official data, which showed the index edging up to 49.8 in August from July's final reading of 49.3.
That left the index just below the 50-point mark that separates expansion from contraction, but HSBC itself believes a reading as low as 48.0 in China would still point to annual growth of 12-13 in industrial output and 9 percent in GDP.
Risks of a hard landing are still remote, said Qu Hongbin, an economist at HSBC.
The Australian dollar, which is sensitive to expectations of Chinese demand for Australia's commodities such as iron ore and coal, rose to stand up 0.5 percent on the day around $1.0450.
Bargain hunters had pushed U.S. stocks slightly higher on Monday after four weeks of losses, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 0.3 percent.
PESSIMISM BOOSTS GOLD
But many investors remained pessimistic about the outlook for rich world economies, particularly the euro zone, where the big fear is that the debt crisis that has swamped Greece, Portugal and Ireland will spread to bigger, harder-to-save economies such as Spain or Italy.
Spot gold soared to the latest in a succession of all-time highs above $1,910 an ounce and was on course for its biggest monthly rise in 29 years.
We are not hearing much good news out of Europe or the United States, said Darren Heathcote, head of trading at Investec Australia.
For the time being investors are happy looking at gold as safe haven in these troubled times, and will continue to do so until we see something positive and sustainable.
U.S. crude oil gained 1 percent to around $85.22 a barrel, after falling on Monday on hopes that Libyan exports would restart soon as the country's six-month-old civil war neared an end with rebel troops entering Tripoli.
EURO FLASH PMI AWAITED
The euro traded around $1.4370, having retreated from Monday's high around $1.4434, as markets awaited flash PMI surveys from the euro zone's big economies.
The current stabilization in risk is conditional on European PMIs not disappointing sharply, warned Sebastien Galy, analyst at Societe Generale.
Weaker growth in Germany would lead the market to think that help for peripheral Europe will be harder to come back.
The softer euro helped the dollar index .DXY, which tracks the U.S. currency's performance against a basket of major currencies, bounce off Monday's low of 73.814 to 74.051.
Worries about more action from Swiss and Japanese authorities to weaken their currencies also helped underpin the dollar index.
Against the yen, the dollar was at 76.75 yen, off a record low around 75.94 set last Friday. The Swiss franc traded at 0.7880 francs, having carved out a slim trading band between 0.7800 and 0.8000.
Japanese government bonds eased after their rally of recent months, with September 10-year futures dipping 0.14 point to 142.63, while the benchmark 10-year yield rose 2 basis points to 1.005 percent.
(Reporting by Koh Gui Qing in Beijing, Ian Chua in Sydney, Alex Richardson and Rujun Shen in Singapore and Ju-min Park and Claire Jim in Seoul; Editing by Ramya Venugopal)