By Alex Richardson
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian stocks drifted down on Monday as investors booked profits from a New Year rally that had pushed markets to multi-month highs, although financial stocks gained after global regulators decided to relax draft plans for tough new bank liquidity rules.
Commodity prices mostly held steady, supported by data showing the U.S. economy continuing on a path of slow but steady recovery that propelled Wall Street stocks to a five-year high.
Financial bookmakers called Europe's main share indexes to open flat or slightly lower, while S&P 500 index futures traded in Asia eased 0.2 percent, pointing to a weaker start in New York.
"It just seems like markets are entering a consolidation phase after recent gains and with most markets trading at fresh 12-month highs," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at financial spreadbetting firm IG in Melbourne.
The dollar fell against the yen, coming off a two-and-a-half year peak it had logged against the Japanese currency as investors adjusted to the possibility of more monetary stimulus in 2013 from the Bank of Japan and less from the U.S. Federal Reserve.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan, which had reached its highest level since August 2011 on Thursday, eased 0.1 percent, while Tokyo's Nikkei share average retreated after touching a 23-month high in early trade to close down 0.8 percent.
The MSCI benchmark's financial sector sub-index firmed after the Basel Committee of banking supervisors agreed on Sunday to give banks four more years and greater flexibility to build up cash buffers so they can use some of their reserves to help struggling economies.
HSBC Holdings <0005.HK> Hong Kong shares rose 1 percent, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd gained 0.6 percent.
Shares in Japanese exporters were supported by the trend of a weakening yen, which traded around 87.85 to the dollar, up 0.3 percent on the day, after the U.S. currency rose as far as 88.40 yen, its highest in nearly two-and-a-half years, on Friday.
The dollar posted a gain of around 2.7 percent against the yen last week, its biggest weekly rise in more than a year. Its gains had accelerated after minutes from the Federal Reserve's December meeting showed some policymakers had considered ending the Fed's bond-buying programme as early as this year.
By contrast, many investors are now betting that Japan's new government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will push to weaken the yen and drive through aggressive fiscal stimulus, and pressure the Bank of Japan to do the same on the monetary side.
Although the dollar may pull back against the yen given the speed of its rise over the past month, its uptrend seems likely to remain intact, said Hiroshi Maeba, head of FX trading Japan for UBS in Tokyo.
"My sense is that the market could still head much higher," Maeba said. "I think 90 yen might be reached pretty soon."
The dollar firmed against the euro, which traded around $1.3035.
The U.S. stock benchmark S&P 500 index closed at its highest level since December 2007 on Friday after data showed a steady pace of jobs growth and brisk expansion of the services sector in the world's biggest economy.
That offered support to growth-sensitive commodities, with copper little changed just below $8,100 a tonne, while Brent crude oil eased a little to around $111.20.
Spot gold firmed 0.3 percent to around $1,660 an ounce.
(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Eric Meijer)