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Money Mar 12, 2012

Asian stocks fall as investors assess US jobs, monetary policy

Tokyo: Asian shares fell on Monday as investors paused to assess the effect of strong US jobs data, which scaled back expectations for more easing ahead of this week's Federal Reserve meeting, while uncertainty over Chinese growth also weighed on sentiment.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index eased 0.6 percent after rising as much as 1.3 percent on Friday. The index has risen about 12 percent this year.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index eased 0.6 percent after rising as much as 1.3 percent on Friday.

Japan's Nikkei average rose to a fresh seven-month high, after jumping more than 2 percent at one point on Friday to top the 10,000 mark for the first time in seven months.

The dollar hovered around three-week highs against a basket of major currencies on Monday, but slipped against the yen to 82.15 yen, after touching a near 11-month high of 82.64 yen on Friday. The euro eased 0.2 percent to $1.3094, after hitting a four-week low of $1.3085.

"The markets were due for a correction after rising too strongly so far, bringing prices to levels which wouldn't be sustainable," said Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory Co.

Greece averted the immediate threat of an uncontrolled default when a sufficient number of private creditors agreed on a bond swap deal on Friday that will cut the country's public debt and clear the way for a new bailout.

While concerns about Europe's debt crisis will not fade away with the completion of the Greece debt swap deal, the focus will likely shift to global growth and monetary policy, Barclays Capital analysts said.

Data on Friday showed solid growth in US nonfarm payrolls, suggesting the world's largest economy was strengthening and in less need of further monetary stimulus from the Fed, which holds its policy meeting on Tuesday.

While US data continued to show a recovery trend, economic conditions were dire in Europe and mixed in China.

China's trade balance plunged $31.5 billion into the red in February as imports swamped exports to leave the largest deficit in at least a decade, data over the weekend showed. Recent data showed China's inflation cooled in February, while retail sales and industrial output came in below forecast.

"Aside from healthy demand for industrial metals, assessment of recent Chinese data is mixed, and more figures are needed to clarify the uncertainty," Niimura said.

In a wide-ranging statement highlighting its goals for 2012, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) promised to reduce state control over China's interest rates and currency markets to allow market forces to have a bigger play.

It also said Beijing has ample room to further cut the reserve requirement ratio for banks, adding that any decision would be based on market liquidity conditions and foreign exchange inflows.

The trade data "means bigger need to stimulate domestic demand - via fiscal stimulus and monetary easing. So we expect 200 bps more in RRR cuts and 50 bps in interest rate cuts later this year," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist and strategist for Asia ex-Japan at Credit Agricole CIB, in a note. Following Monday's PBOC comments, "We expect the PBOC to loosen liquidity in line with slower growth and inflation," he said.

Greece's successful debt restructuring brought some relief to riskier assets on Friday, but poor euro zone growth prospects and fears Portugal may also impose losses on creditors were likely to limit the fall in yields on weaker sovereign bonds.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the arbiter of rules governing the sale and use of credit default swaps, said on Friday Greece triggered the payment on CDS, which act as insurance contracts on defaults or credit restructurings, but did not see a big market impact.

A maximum of $3.16 billion of net outstanding Greek CDS contracts could be paid out, while about 93 percent of CDS contracts are collateralised, meaning investors and dealers hold collateral on their books to cover potential payouts. ISDA said an auction will be held to determine the actual payout amounts on March 19.

Sentiment in Asian credit markets improved slightly, narrowing the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index by about 1 basis point on Monday.

Brent crude futures fell 0.5 percent to $125.39 a barrel while U.S. crude shed 0.6 percent to $106.79. Copper fell 0.5 percent to $8,454 a tonne.

Reuters


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