* Equities, currencies await debate
* MSCI AxJ -0.1%, set for worst monthly loss since March
* Asian stock markets: https://tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4
SINGAPORE/TOKYO, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Asian shares crept
higher on Wednesday after data showed China's economic recovery
gathering steam, but a chaotic first U.S. presidential debate
between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden weighed on
U.S. equity futures slipped and the dollar, regarded as a
safe-haven currency, drew support in the wake of the debate as
it offered few insights into the outcome of the U.S. election.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
rose 0.3% led by a 1.2% gain in Hong Kong
S&P 500 futures were volatile, and gave up gains as
large as 0.7% to trade 0.5% lower for the day after President
Donald Trump again cast doubt on whether he would accept the
That also lifted the dollar a touch from overnight lows.
The first face-off between Trump and Biden was seen by some
political analysts as Trump's best chance to upend a race where
he has lagged in the polls.
In a confrontational debate marked by constant interruptions
from both candidates, Biden pressed Trump over his handling of
the coronavirus and Trump responded with aggressive personal
"Right now, it looks like an even split between Trump and
Biden, so it is difficult for the markets to move," said Ayako
Sera, market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank in Tokyo.
"What people are most concerned about is the fairness of the
election and how it will be carried out...under normal
circumstances, the positive economic data from China we've seen
would support risk-off trades, but this time is different."
China's factory activity expanded at a faster pace in
September, helped by a return to exports growth after several
months of shrinking sales, bolstering a steady recovery for the
economy as it rebounds from the coronavirus shock.
The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI)
rose to 51.5 in September from 51.0 in August. Analysts had
expected it to pick up slightly to 51.2.
A separate private survey, also released on Wednesday,
painted a similar picture of the manufacturing sector gaining
momentum with new export orders posting their biggest rise in
Beyond Hong Kong, where gains were broad based, stocks in
Shanghai rose 0.5%. Australia's ASX 200 slipped 1.6%.
World stocks have lost 3.7% in September,
their worst monthly performance since March.
PROSPECT OF CONTESTED RESULT
The debate did not move the needle in betting markets, which
project a narrow Biden victory, and currency markets were
But as the election draws closer, investors are expecting a
bumpy final lap of the campaign and are bracing for the
possibility that the result is unclear on polling day.
Options trade shows that volatility is expected through
October and November.
The euro pulled back from week-high $1.1755 after the
debate to $1.1732. The risk-sensitive Australian dollar
slipped to $0.7114.
During the debate Trump and Biden battled fiercely over
Trump's leadership in the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and
Biden said in the closing stages of the debate that he would
accept defeat if he lost at the ballot box, while Trump
repeated, without evidence, his concerns that mail-in ballots
could encourage fraud.
"I don't think we were expecting anything else from Trump,"
said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage
Elsewhere oil prices fell back toward two-week lows touched
overnight amid rising concerns about fuel demand as the
coronavirus pandemic worsens.
Brent crude futures were last down 1.2% at $40.56 a
barrel and U.S. crude futures were down by the same
margin at $38.84 a barrel.
Gold slipped 0.4% to 1,890 an ounce.
(Reporting Tom Westbrook in Singapore. Additional reporting by
Pete Schroeder in Washington.
Editing by Shri Navaratnam & Simon Cameron-Moore)