Chinese investment surged in May, fanning hopes the world's third-largest economy may lead a global recovery, although a record slump in Japan's first quarter GDP reinforced expectations any rebound would be slow.
China's investment pick-up, which came on the back of large government stimulus spending, offset surprisingly weak figures for exports and imports, which both fell for a seventh consecutive month and at an accelerating pace.
Global data has given increasing signals of a rebound from the deepest recession in six decades, driving stock markets sharply higher from a March trough. European Central Bank policymaker Christian Noyer said on Thursday the global economy could resume growth between the end of 2009 and mid-2010.
However, Noyer warned businessmen in Hong Kong that rising unemployment could still hurt consumption and growth prospects. Financial markets also worry that huge U.S. government spending and Fed cash injections will spark inflation and undercut any nascent rebound.
Market attention on Thursday focused on a 30-year U.S. Treasury auction, after a disappointing Wednesday sale pushed yields on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note above four percent for the first time in eight months, suggesting it will become more expensive for the U.S. government to finance its growing budget deficit.
The risk of rising yields should not be discounted, said Joseph Brusuelas of Moody's Economy.com. If continued, they will reduce home mortgage refinancing and curtail corporate borrowing, both critical to an economic recovery.
U.S. May retail sales data and weekly jobless claims, both due at 1230 GMT (8:30 a.m. EDT), may give more clarity on the health of the world's largest economy.
China has sought to cushion the blow from falling exports with a 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) economic stimulus plan.
Data on Thursday showed annual growth of fixed asset investment in urban areas in the January-May period accelerated to 32.9 percent. from 30.5 percent in the first four months of the year, suggesting the stimulus is working.
This is a welcome sign of momentum building in the Chinese economy, and it's good for the global outlook, said David Cohen of Action Economics in Singapore.
Underpinned by this optimism, commodity-related stocks in Asia rose for a third straight day while oil prices extended gains to seven-month highs.
The International Energy Agency on Thursday upgraded its 2009 world oil demand forecast for the first time in almost a year. It said demand would fall this year to 83.3 million barrels per day, a less steep decline than previously forecast.
China's need for government pump-priming was underlined by May customs data that showed exports fell 26.4 percent on the year, while imports fell 25.2 percent, resulting in a trade surplus of $13.4 billion, compared with $13.1 billion in April and $18.6 billion in March.
I've always been pretty conservative with China's import and export forecasts, and I think they haven't reached a bottom yet, because the U.S. and European economies are still deep in recession, said Sherman Chan of Moody's Economy.com in Sydney.
However, she also noted that trade flows today reflect orders placed several months ago, when the global economy was in dire straits. Investment, by contrast, is a better leading indicator.
Japan's economy contracted a revised 3.8 percent in the first three months of the year, not as bad as economists' median forecast of 4.0 percent, which was the same as the initial estimate, but still the fastest pace since World War Two.
Economists are forecasting a gradual return to growth, although weak capital spending and personal consumption are expected to be a drag on the economy in the coming months.
The revision was technical and doesn't change the overall picture, said Hiroshi Watanabe, senior economist at Daiwa Institute of Research. The economy has passed the worst phase but it is unlikely to return to peak levels before the global crisis.
In Australia, a smaller-than-expected fall in employment built hopes the economy, which has so far dodged recession, will revive sooner than other developed nations.
However, in the euro zone the ECB said in its monthly bulletin on Thursday that its non-standard steps to ease credit would take time to feed through to the real economy, echoing a statement read by President Jean-Claude Trichet last week after the bank kept interest rates at 1.0 percent.
(Additional reporting by Susan Fenton in Hong Kong: Writing by Alex Richardson and Jon Boyle; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)