* Japan's Nikkei bucks regional downtrend on weaker yen,
pension fund shift
* Downbeat China manufacturing report saps investors' risk
* Euro rises vs yen but well below 4-year peak touched on
* BOJ holds policy steady as expected
By Lisa Twaronite
TOKYO, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Downbeat China manufacturing
activity added to gloom in most Asian stock markets on Thursday,
while emerging market currencies faltered as the dollar charged
ahead after the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest minutes hinted at
Europe was poised to follow Asia lower, with financial
spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 to open
around 0.3 percent lower, Germany's DAX and France's
CAC 40 each off as much as 0.5 percent.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
shed about 1.2 percent, at one point touching
its lowest point since late last week. The softer China
manufacturing and Fed speculation also weighed on emerging
market currencies, sending the Indonesian rupiah to its lowest
mark in nearly five years.
But Japan's Nikkei stock average bucked the region,
surging 1.9 percent as the yen weakened to a four-month low
against the dollar, and on plans by a major government fund to
invest more of its $2 trillion funds in riskier assets.
Activity in China's vast factory sector grew at a milder
pace in November on shrinking new export orders, the preliminary
private Flash Markit/HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI)
showed, raising concerns that China's economy could lose some
vigour in the fourth quarter.
A sub-index measuring new export orders fell to a
three-month low of 49.4 in November from 51.3 in October,
reflecting weak external demand from developed countries.
"It's pretty well known that China's economy is slowing
down, but the flash PMI was a bit weaker than expected so it was
a factor for the correction today," said Larry Jiang, chief
strategist at Guotai Junan International Securities.
In the Oct. 29-30 Fed policy meeting minutes released on
Wednesday, officials indicated that they could decide to start
scaling back the asset purchases at one of their next few
meetings provided this was warranted by economic growth.
"The headline that most participants saw tapering in the
next couple of meetings cannot be much of surprise, since the
alternative is a virtual indefinite postponement," Steven
Englander, global head of G10 FX strategy at CitiFX, wrote in a
note to clients.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a
basket of major currencies, rose slightly to 81.149 after
it climbed 0.4 percent on Wednesday, marking its biggest one-day
gain in about two weeks.
The dollar added about 0.7 percent against its Japanese
counterpart, buying 100.70 yen, after earlier rising as
high as 100.83 yen, its loftiest level since late July.
The euro gave up about 0.1 percent to $1.3428.
It was also buying 135.27 yen, recovering 0.7 percent
on the day but still off a four-year high of 135.94 yen touched
The single currency plunged on Wednesday after a Bloomberg
report said the ECB was considering cutting its deposit rate,
one of its two key interest rates, to below zero. An ECB
spokesperson declined to comment on the report.
The Aussie dollar hit a one-week low of $0.9291 on
the factory survey outcome from China, Australia's biggest
export market. It last stood at $0.9302.
The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy
at the end of its two-day meeting on Thursday as widely
expected, and reiterated the economy is moderately recovering.
Markets are focusing on what Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will
say in his post-meeting news conference about speculation of
more easing by the ECB and uncertainty about when Fed will slow
its asset purchases.
In commodities trading, Brent crude oil gave up
earlier gains and slipped 0.3 percent to $107.73. It surged by
more than $1 a barrel in the previous session after a U.S.
official said it would be "very hard" to get a nuclear agreement
with Iran this week.
U.S. oil futures for January delivery shed about 0.3
percent to $93.59, after reversing gains on Wednesday following
release of the Fed minutes.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange fell
by about 0.1 percent to $6,987 a tonne, pressured by the
tapering concerns and the softer China manufacturing.
Spot gold edged up to $1,247.81 but was still trading
near four-month lows after its biggest drop in seven weeks in
the previous session.