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Asian shares slip on China growth woes

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Thu, Mar 15, 2012 05:40 hrs
Graphs of various market indices are displayed on an electronic board outside a brokerage in Tokyo

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares eased on Thursday on renewed concerns about Chinese growth, but a brighter global economic outlook underpinned the dollar and kept investor risk appetite intact, reducing the appeal of safe-haven government debts.

Financial spreadbetters expected major European markets to open about 0.1 to 0.4 percent higher.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index eased as much as 0.5 percent and was last down 0.2 percent, led by falls in the materials sector and resource-reliant Australian shares.

But Japan's Nikkei rose 1 percent to an eight-month high as a weaker yen boosted exporters.

The dollar touched a fresh 11-month high against the yen of 84.187 and hit a two-month high against a basket of major currencies at 80.738. The U.S. currency also rose to a one-month high against the euro of $1.3004.

U.S. Treasury yields jumped to five-month highs, dragging up Japanese benchmark yields to three-month peaks on Thursday.

"The market is reviewing its view on the U.S. economy and scaling back expectations for further U.S. monetary easing or the risk that the U.S. economy will be doing poorly this year," Makoto Noji, senior strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

"The dire fiscal situation in Europe remains unchanged, keeping intact the prospect that global growth would only be modest this year," he said.

A firmer dollar hurt dollar-based commodities such as gold, as well as industrial metals, including copper. Copper, weighed by concerns about demand from China, the world's largest consumer of the metal, fell 0.3 percent to $8,437 a tonne.

"Chinese corporations are surprisingly cautious on China right now," said Jeremy Friesen, Hong Kong-based commodity strategist at Societe Generale, adding Beijing's policy should help support base metals demand through the rest of 2012.

Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday China must embrace slower growth and bolder political reform to keep its economy from faltering. He also dampened hopes for any near-term easing measures in the country's property sector, sending Chinese shares lower.

Chinese shares remained weak on Thursday, after falling sharply the day before on Wen's comments.

DOLLAR RETAINS MOMENTUM

U.S. stocks were choppy on Wednesday after hitting multi-year highs earlier in the week, while stocks in Europe closed at a near 8-month high. Recent data suggested a recovery in the U.S. labour market, raising hopes for broad spillover effects.

"The U.S. recovery is starting to gain some traction," said Annette Beacher, head of Asia Pacific research at TD Securities in Singapore.

As investors shifted into riskier assets, gold shed about 5 percent or $80 per ounce over the past two days, erasing the premium it enjoyed based on expectations of further U.S. monetary easing to stimulate the economy. It was barely changed at $1,643 an ounce on Thursday.

"Safe-haven (appeal) is forgotten for the time being," said Ronald Leung, director of Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong. "The demand is sluggish because of the strong dollar," he said.

Another major safe-haven asset, U.S. Treasuries, also came under selling pressure, pushing the benchmark 10-year yield up further in Asia on Thursday to its highest since October at 2.33 percent.

That in turn drove 10-year Japanese government bond yields up 4.5 basis points to a three-month high of 1.050 percent on Thursday.

Asian credit markets firmed, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index narrowing by 3 basis points from Wednesday.

As risk-aversion softened, Japanese investors bought a net 367.1 billion of foreign bonds in the week through March 10, finance ministry data showed on Thursday, following up their purchases in previous weeks. Foreign investors continued net buying of Japanese stocks for an 11th straight week.

Global investors sought high yields again last week, with EPFR Global-tracked High Yield Bond Funds seeing year-to-date inflows nearing almost three times that of the full year total for 2011 last week.

Brent crude steadied above $125 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures gained 0.4 percent to $105.83 a barrel.

Energy prices lifted euro zone consumer prices in February, but industrial output grew 0.2 percent in January to snap two consecutive monthly falls, pointing to the euro zone's eventual recovery from recession later this year.

(Additional reporting by Cecile Lefort in Sydney, Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo, and Rujun Shen and Lewa Pardomuan in Singapore; Editing by Ramya Venugopal)



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