Asian shares ease on weak U.S. data, yen firms before BOJ

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian stocks eased on Thursday after weak data stoked concerns the key American jobs report due later in the week will signal slowing U.S. growth, while the yen remained firm ahead of the Bank of Japan's policy decision this session.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was down 0.3 percent, with Australian shares .AXJO sliding 0.6 percent in early trade and South Korean shares .KS11 opening 1 percent lower.

Global stocks fell on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX posting its biggest daily drop in over a month, after a report showing weaker-than-expected U.S. private sector hiring in March, and a services sector index missing forecasts, raised concerns about the U.S. economy.

Investor sentiment was also dampened by worries about escalating tensions in the Korean Peninsula.

The United States said on Wednesday it would soon send a missile defense system to Guam to defend it from North Korea, as the U.S. military adjusts to what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called a "real and clear" danger from Pyongyang.

Japan's Nikkei stock average .N225 opened down 1.4 percent, after soaring 3 percent on Wednesday for its biggest one-day rise in two months. Trading was expected to be held in ranges until the BOJ announces the result of its two-day policy meeting, the first under the new governor Haruhiko Kuroda. .T

"Only the truly brave can feel confident trading into the BoJ event," Sebastien Galy, currency strategist, at Societe Generale, said in a note to clients. "Risks of a more global position-squeeze are rising, but are lacking an economic or geopolitical trigger. Markets have so far shrugged off the risks (of North Korea), but that could change if the escalation morphed into military action however restricted initially."

The dollar was down 0.2 percent against the yen at 92.85, staying close to a one-month low of 92.57 yen touched on Tuesday. The euro fell 0.3 percent to 119.25 yen, holding near its lowest since February 26 of 119.15 yen seen on Tuesday.

Market expectations have been running high for Kuroda to announce at his inaugural policy meeting an increase in bond purchases and a lengthening in the maturities of bonds the BOJ intends to buy.

Hopes for stronger BOJ stimulus had led to a yen weakness since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's reflationary policy agenda became clear in November, sending the yen down against the dollar about 16 percent since then and 7.2 percent lower so far this year.

A weak yen helped underpin the Nikkei, which rose about 37 percent since mid-November and 19 percent higher so far in 2013.

An accumulation of yen short positions has cautioned some yen bears in recent days.

In the options market, three-month risk reversals, a gauge of currency market sentiment, showed options investors are biased to puts, the right to sell dollars at a set price on a future date.

The dollar has also been undermined by falling bond yields on uncertainty over the U.S. growth. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield touched to a three-month low of around 1.81 percent on Wednesday.

The monthly U.S. nonfarm payrolls report on Friday will likely confirm market views that the Federal Reserve will keep its extremely accommodative monetary policy.

The euro was steady at $1.2848, but not far above a four-month low of $1.2750 touched last week.

The European Central Bank is expected to hold interest rates on Thursday but could provide a dovish outlook on interest rates.

The Bank of England, which also meets later on Thursday, is unlikely to pump new money into Britain's stagnant economy.

U.S. crude futures were little changed around $94.43 a barrel.

Oil prices fell 3 percent on Wednesday in the steepest daily drop in five months, as U.S. crude inventories rose to their highest since 1990 and as weak economic data weighed on the outlook for demand.

Gold tumbled to a nine-month low of $1,549.69 an ounce on Wednesday, losing more than 1 percent as it was dragged lower in tandem with plummeting crude oil prices and sharp losses in U.S. equities.

(Editing by Eric Meijer)

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2013 06:45 AM

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