Asia shares hesitate, Singapore stands pat on policy

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian share markets got off to a hesitant start on Tuesday as Singapore disappointed expectations of policy easing while Wall Street was weighed down by worries over the corporate earnings season.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) kept its policy unchanged, contrary to the expectation of majority of 25 analysts polled by Reuters. The central bank's announcement lifted the local dollar.

Still, moves in Asia were slight, with speculation high that China will continue to add to its stimulus steps following poor trade data. Figures for gross domestic product due Wednesday are forecast to show growth cooling to 7 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was a fraction firmer at 514 and not far from September's peak at 516. A break there would take it to ground last trod in early 2008.

Japan's Nikkei dithered around 19,900 having struggled to sustain a break above the 20,000 barrier.

A tide of new liquidity has lifted Chinese stocks to seven-year highs with the CSI300 index and the Shanghai Composite having climbed almost uninterrupted for more than five weeks.

The flood of money spilled over into Hong Kong where the Hang Seng Index has risen 12 per cent in just five sessions.

On Wall Street, investors fretted that a strong US dollar would constrain earnings at multinational corporations. The Dow ended Monday down 0.45 per cent, while the S&P 500 dropped 0.46 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.15 per cent.

Estimates for first-quarter S&P 500 results have fallen sharply since Jan. 1, with earnings for the period expected to have declined 2.9 per cent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Eyes are also on U.S. retail sales data due later Tuesday for evidence that spending is picking up after a sluggish start to the year.

An upbeat result would also add to the case for rate hikes from the Federal Reserve later this year, and thus add further support to the dollar.

Against a basket of major currencies, the dollar was holding steady at 99.434 and just a whisker from recent peaks. The euro drifted down to US$1.0577, having fallen as low as US$1.0519 on Monday.

The yen made gains of its own after Koichi Hamada, an economic adviser to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, indicated the yen was excessively weak against the dollar.

The dollar slid a whole yen to 119.68 yen at one stage before steadying at 120.05. The euro dived as deep as 126.505 yen, reaching a low not seen since June 2013.

In commodities, U.S. crude was quoted 20 cents firmer at US$52.10, while Brent May crude added 22 cents to US$58.15 a barrel.