Nikkei drops on higher yen

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IOL pic feb25 yellow green market arrows . File photo: Filomena Scalise

Sydney - Japanese shares were slugged on Monday by a one-two combination of a higher yen and a selloff in the tech sector, while the euro struggled with speculation of more policy easing at home.

The Nikkei retreated 1.3 percent, led by weakness in technology stocks following a similar fall on Wall Street. Index heavyweight Softbank led the way with a fall of four percent in sizable turnover.

SoftBank shares have become very sensitive to moves in US tech stocks ahead of Alibaba's IPO, which is expected to become one of the largest offerings in history. SoftBank holds around a 37 percent stake in the Chinese e-commerce giant.

Still, stocks were steadier elsewhere in the region in the wake of a US jobs report that hit the sweet spot for many investors - firm enough to soothe concerns about the health of the US recovery but not so strong as to hasten the end of policy stimulus.

As a result, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was off just a slim 0.1 percent, following two weeks of gains.

Markets in China and Thailand were closed for a holiday.

Profit-taking on high-flying momentum stocks had hit the Nasdaq hard on Friday and dragged the Dow and S&P off historic highs. The Nasdaq shed 2.6 percent in its biggest daily loss since February, while the fell 0.96 percent and the S&P 500 1.25 percent.

Still, the fall was more a function of positioning than any weakness in the jobs report.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 192 000, while upward revisions over the prior two months totalled 37 000. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent, while hours worked rebounded and another soft reading on wages was benign for inflation.

“The conclusion then is that employment conditions are pretty much the same as they have been last few years,” said Michelle Girard, chief economist at RBS in Connecticut.

“This report should not move the dial in either direction for either the market or the Fed.”

That was just fine for emerging markets which have been vulnerable to any hint the Federal Reserve might unwind its stimulus at a faster pace, and so attract foreign funds away.

Emerging market stocks were trading steady on Monday following three straight weeks of gains.

Also relieved was the US Treasury market where 10-year yields were down at 2.72 percent, after diving 9 basis points on Friday as prices rallied strongly.

The pullback undermined the US dollar's advantage over the yen and pulled it back to 103.27 from Friday's 10-week peak at 104.13 yen.

The euro fared even worse after a German newspaper reported the ECB had modelled the impact of buying a trillion euros of assets to ward off deflation, a day after the ECB's president said radical policy action might be needed.

“No longer is it the case that the data need to weaken further; rather, with the latest inflation data already tracking below the staff's baseline projections, it will suffice that there is no 'catch-up' over the next few weeks,” said James Ashley, chief European economist at RBCCM.

“In other words, if the data do not improve as expected, the ECB will act.”

Just the chance of extra action has pushed bond yields down sharply across Europe, with Spanish five-year yields dropping below US Treasuries for the first time since 2007.

That in turn undermined the euro, which was pinned at $1.3699 on Monday having carved out a five-week trough of $1.3671 on Friday. That helped nudge up the dollar against a basket of currencies to 80.421.

There is little in the way of major economic data in Asia on Monday, but the Bank of Japan has a policy meeting ending on Tuesday that will be closely watched for any hint that policymakers are considering adding to their already massive asset buying.

In commodity markets, gold was holding at $1,303.05 an ounce after bouncing 1.2 percent on Friday.

Oil prices eased after Libyan rebels occupying four eastern oil ports agreed with the government on Sunday to gradually end their eight-month petroleum blockade.

Brent crude was quoted 81 cents lower at $105.91 a barrel on Monday, while US crude eased 26 cents to $100.88 a barrel. - Reuters


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