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Asian shares brace for industry data, pound slips

A busy week for data culminates with a Group of 20 meeting that offer leaders a chance to soothe market concerns with talk of coordination, even if it produces nothing concrete.

twitter-logoReuters | February 22, 2016 | Updated 08:51 IST
Photo: Reuters

Asian share markets got off to a cautious start on Monday as investors await a rush of February industry surveys to take the pulse of the global economy, while sterling suffered on concerns the UK might yet vote to leave the European Union.

A busy week for data culminates with a Group of 20 meeting that offer leaders a chance to soothe market concerns with talk of coordination, even if it produces nothing concrete.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.1 per cent, having rebounded more than 4 per cent last week.

Japan's Nikkei eased 0.4 per cent, hampered by the strength of the yen. South Korea lost 0.3 per cent, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 dipped 0.2 per cent.

Oil markets were calmer with Brent crude off 3 cents at $32.98 and US crude down 4 cents to $29.60 a barrel.

While Wall Street ended Friday with a whimper, the major indexes still boasted their best weekly performances this year, with the Nasdaq tallying its strongest week since July.

"Equity markets successfully stress-tested and bounced from key technical support last week," wrote analysts at RBC Capital Markets.

"While we cannot definitively say the cycle/2016 lows are in place yet, the technical evidence continues to suggest a more durable bottom may be forming."

The early price activity was in sterling which beat a hasty retreat as worries that Britain may quit the European Union flared up after London Mayor Boris Johnson threw his weight behind the exit campaign.

The pound fell around 1 per cent on the greenback, euro and yen. It slid as far as $1.4235 and 160.07 yen, from around $1.4405 and 162.10 late on Friday. The euro popped back above 78.00 pence and last stood at 77.91.

Sterling has just about completely reversed gains made on Friday after EU leaders agreed unanimously on a package of measures aimed at keeping Britain in the 28-nation bloc to avoid a potentially disastrous divorce.

The other major currencies were steadier. The dollar was a touch softer at 112.51 yen, as was the euro at 124.97. Against the greenback, the common currency was also slightly weaker at $1.1122.

Dollar bulls shrugged off data last Friday that showed underlying US consumer price inflation accelerated in January by the most in nearly 4-1/2 years.

The figures should support the view that the Fed could gradually raise interest rates this year as forecast, but markets remained highly skeptical given the backdrop of slowing global growth and market turbulence.

Finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 rich nations gather in Shanghai this week to discuss those global headwinds.

There has been some chatter about a possible grand currency agreement that would allow for a depreciation in the US dollar, which might relieve pressure on commodity prices and on emerging markets.

However, most analysts consider it very unlikely given so many of the G20 central banks are actively easing policy and need their own currencies to stay competitive.

Surveys on manufacturing and consumer sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic this week will offer clues about how much the strain of weak trade, investment and wage growth are spilling into advanced economies.

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