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GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares take step forward, eyes on ECB

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Thu, Feb 06, 2014 06:30 hrs

* MSCI Asia-Pacific index up 1 pct from 5-month low

* Markets expect ECB to offer easing bias; some see rate cuts, other easing

* Investors hope U.S. payrolls data will confirm solid U.S. growth

* FTSE may rise 0.4 pct, DAX seen up 0.2 pct

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Asian shares took a tentative step forward from five-month lows on Thursday, with investors hoping the European Central Bank (ECB) and upcoming U.S. jobs data can calm nerves strained by the emerging market selloff.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.8 percent after five days of losses, although Japan's Nikkei ended down 0.2 percent after a volatile trade.

Spread betters expect European shares to rise, with Britain's FTSE seen rising by up to 0.4 percent and Germany's DAX gaining by up to 0.2 percent.

While many players expect the ECB to stand pat at its meeting later in the day, there is speculation it could ease its policy further to ward off the threat of deflation following last month's unexpectedly soft inflation reading.

With the bank's main interest rates already at 0.25 percent, there is limited room for rate cuts, but that has not stopped traders from betting on a small rate cut of about 10-15 basis points.

Others speculate the central bank could suspend so-called sterilisation, or operations to soak up money put back in circulation from the ECB's buying of government debt, or even a large-scale quantitative easing.

At minimum, investors expect the ECB chief Mario Draghi to at least drop hints of his readiness to ease, which could help counter worries about dwindling stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

"At the root of jolts in risk assets this year is the fact that Fed is going ahead with tapering its stimulus. If the ECB and the Bank of Japan are to ease, that would be positive for risk assets," said Arihiro Nagata, head of foreign bond trading at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

Expectations of a dovish tilt at the ECB capped the euro, which traded little changed at $1.3535. Although it was off a 10-week low of $1.34765 hit on Monday, it has not fully recovered from the damage caused by surprisingly low inflation reading released last Friday.

HEARTBREAK?

Relative calm in the markets of vulnerable emerging nations Turkey, South Africa and Russia helped alleviate some of the recent turmoil.

Many players are also looking ahead to the crucial U.S. jobs report on Friday for a measure of comfort, although a weaker-than-expected U.S. private jobs report promised to keep investors on tenterhooks at least until the payrolls data is out.

"If the upcoming payrolls data shows solid job growth after the dismal reading last month, we could confirm that the U.S. growth trend has not changed. That will be a catalyst for markets to stabilise," said Tohru Yamamoto, chief fixed-income strategist at Daiwa Securities.

"But if it is weak again, it will break markets' heart."

Economists polled by Reuters expect the non-farm payrolls to have increased 185,000 in January after a 74,000 gain in December.

"If the data comes in line with expectations, then most investors will think they don't need to change their base scenario on the U.S. economy," said Sumitomo Mitsui Bank's Nagata.

Wall Street had a volatile session overnight, with the benchmark S&P 500 hitting a 3 1/2-month intraday low of 1,737.92, before ending down 0.2 percent at 1,751.62.

Investors' cautious mood kept the safe-haven yen well bid, with the Japanese currency not far from a 2 1/2-month high against the dollar.

The dollar stood at 101.41 yen, still within sight of a low of 100.755 yen touched on Tuesday.




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