Asia stocks sag as oil slip dampens sentiment, US dollar stalls

A pedestrian looks at a quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.
A pedestrian looks at a quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks sagged on Wednesday (June 1)as a slip in crude oil prices dampened investors' appetite for riskier assets, while the recently bullish dollar stalled against the euro and yen following a mixed bag of US economic data.

Investors were also cautious ahead of official and private surveys on China's manufacturing activity which are expected to throw more cold water on hopes that the world's second-largest economy is picking up.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.3 per cent.

Japan's Nikkei lost 0.8 per cent as the yen firmed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to announce later on Wednesday that he will delay a scheduled sales tax hike by two-and-a-half years to avoid a further shock to the sputtering economy, but the move has been widely expected and is adding to doubts about his reflationary policies and commitment to cutting the country's massive public debt.

Australian stocks fell 1 per cent and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.3 per cent as April export and import data came in weaker than expected.

The Dow shed 0.5 per cent and the S&P 500 dipped 0.1 per cent overnight as energy shares weakened in wake of a slip in oil prices and offset a rise in safe-haven utilities.

Crude oil prices pulled back from eight-month highs, reached last week amid expectations that a global glut was easing and fell overnight to profit taking. US crude was last down 0.4 per cent at US$48.92 a barrel.

The fall in oil prices was exacerbated after UAE Oil Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui said overnight he was happy with the oil market, noting that prices had been correcting higher.

The UAE oil minister's comments touched a nerve in a market wary that an Opec meeting on Thursday may not pave the way for a production freeze.

"The political will of the Opec countries to enact a production freeze is clearly waning. A production freeze is unlikely to come up as an agenda at the June meeting," wrote Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief market economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo. "A sense of crisis among the oil producing countries appears to have receded following the recent spike in crude oil prices."

In currencies, the dollar traded at 110.650 yen, having come off a one-month high of 111.455 struck onMonday after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments enhanced expectations for a near-term US rate hike.

The euro was at US$1.1134, putting further distance between a 2-1/2-month low of US$1.1097 touched on Monday.

US data overnight saw personal income-related and housing indicators come in strong, while the Chicago manufacturing PMI and consumer confidence data proved disappointing.

The Australian dollar was steady at US$0.7236 after gaining 0.7 per cent overnight on upbeat local data, pulling away from a three-month low of US$0.7145 touched last week.

Sterling was on the defensive, last trading little changed at US$1.4477 after dropping more than one per cent on Tuesday after polls showing those who support "Brexit" may be increasing.