Filomena Scalise

Tokyo - Asian shares eased and the dollar firmed on Tuesday as unexpectedly strong US factory activity bolstered expectations the Federal Reserve will soon trim its stimulus, while the yen tumbled on speculation of further central bank easing.

The US Institute for Supply Management's index of national factory activity rose in November to its best showing since April 2011, while the pace of hiring also accelerated.

“If the employment and inflation data also beat expectations, questions will get louder about when the Fed will move, and this will see risk currencies in the firing line,” Evan Lucas, market strategist at financial spreadbetter IG in Melbourne, said.

Friday's nonfarm payrolls report is expected to provide further clues as to when the Fed will start reducing its monthly $85 billion bond purchases, a major driver of global asset markets in recent years.

US stocks closed lower overnight, while US benchmark 10-year Treasury yields ended near 2.8 percent at a one-week high.

“A drop in the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent to 7.0 percent would fan tapering fears, preventing US Treasuries from reversing course even on a lacklustre 150k NFP,” Societe Generale said in a note.

With the US Treasury yields moving higher, so did the appeal of the dollar.

The dollar hit a six-month high of 103.175 yen, extending a 0.5 percent gain overnight and less than 1 yen away from a 4-1/2 year high reached in May. The yen was also weighed down by speculation that the Bank of Japan may expand its already massive stimulus.

According to officials briefed on the process, the BOJ is looking to go beyond its $70 billion-a-month bond-buying programme. Options include major purchases of stock-market-linked funds or other assets riskier than Japanese government bonds, the insiders said.

The yen's weakness helped lift Tokyo's Nikkei benchmark 0.7 percent higher to 15,765.07. The index hit a six-month high of 15,779.60 in the morning session, edging closer to a 5-1/2 year intraday high of 15,942.60 logged in May.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.6 percent, breaking below its 50-day moving average.

Despite the expectations of the Fed soon cutting stimulus, the global economy recovery remained fragile. Miner Rio Tinto said on Tuesday that it expected to halve capital spending to $8 billion by 2015 from last year's level to cut debt.

The Australian dollar dropped 0.3 percent to $0.9075, close to a near three-month low of $0.9055 hit on Friday, after the Reserve Bank of Australia said the currency was “still uncomfortably high” and that a lower exchange rate was needed to achieve balanced growth.

The central bank, as expected, kept its cash rates steady at a record low of 2.5 percent. All 20 analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast the RBA would hold rates this week, though many still expect a further easing in coming months.

The Aussie dollar gave up earlier gains after data showed robust exports in July-September and strong retail sales in October.

Among commodities, gold stabilised at above $1,220 an ounce, having slid 2.6 percent to its lowest since early July in the previous session after the US manufacturing data.

US crude prices gained 0.3 percent to above $94 a barrel, adding to a 1.2 percent rise overnight. - Reuters