* MSCI Asia ex-Japan ekes out minor gains amid holidays
* Dollar eases in wake of underwhelming growth figures
* Week packed with central bank meetings and data
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, April 29 (Reuters) - Asian shares crept ahead on
Monday, while the dollar lost ground to the yen as markets
hunkered down for a busy week for economic data and central bank
policy meetings in the euro zone and United States.
Activity was sparse with Japanese markets closed for a
holiday and China off until Thursday. The MSCI's broadest index
of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2
percent, but off a six-week high touched on Friday.
South Korean shares were flat, while Australia's
market added 0.5 percent thanks to ongoing strength in
Spot gold was a shade firmer at $1,464.91 an ounce,
consolidating last week's bounce. U.S. crude was
off 37 cents at $92.63 a barrel and Brent down 33 cents
While recent disappointing growth data from the U.S., China
and the euro zone has undermined commodity markets and pushed
down bond yields, it has had limited impact on global equities.
"We think this reflects a faith by market participants in
the 'monetary policy put', which associates market supportive
policy reactions to disappointing economic developments," said
analysts from Barclays in a client note.
"For now, it seems to us that this is justified, and partly
on that basis, we continue to recommend overweight exposure to
Indeed, speculation is rife that the European Central Bank
(ECB) will have to cut interest rates at its policy meeting on
Thursday given the dreary run of economic news from the region.
A Reuters poll of 76 economists showed a narrow majority of
43 expected a rate cut of 25 basis points, taking the refi to a
record low of 0.50 percent.
However, market rates, such as that for bank-to-bank
lending, are already so low that such an easing might have no
more than a symbolic impact.
"The ECB will probably cut the refi rate 25 basis points,
but since eonia has been trading near zero for most of
the past nine months, this move shouldn't weaken the euro unless
the bank drops hints that some more dramatic policy -- like a
negative deposit rate -- is back on the agenda," said Anna
Hibinio, a global forex analyst at JPMorgan.
The single currency was a whisker higher at $1.3039
on Monday, but corralled by resistance at $1.3093 and support
The dollar also lost altitude on the yen to 97.86,
having ended on the defensive at 98.26 in New York on Friday
after U.S. economic growth came in short of forecasts.
The U.S. Federal Reserve also meets this week and is widely
expected to keep its current pace of bond buying at $85 billion
a month. The policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee will
announce its decision at 1815 GMT on Wednesday.
Most analysts assume the recent string of underwhelming data
will strengthen the hand of the doves at the Fed and temper any
talk of tapering back the bond buying programme.
Investors will also have plenty of economic news to navigate
this week. A splurge of data from the U.S. includes several
readings on manufacturing and the always-influential payrolls
In Asia, China has surveys on manufacturing and services
while Japan releases a batch of reports on retail sales,
industrial output and employment on Tuesday.
Companies reporting earnings include Pfizer,
Facebook and General Motors.
Of the 271 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported
earnings to date, 69 percent have beaten analyst expectations -
above the 63 percent average since 1994 and slightly over the 67
percent beat rate over the past four quarters.