Asian shares slip as soft US data dims mood

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian shares slipped on Thursday as losses on Wall Street and soft U.S. economic data soured sentiment, while the U.S. dollar's bull run looked to have stalled for the time being.

Dealers said synchronised selling in recently popular trades including biotech stocks, Treasuries and the dollar, smacked more of profit-taking for the quarter end than a major shift in market trends.

A dearth of economic data in Asia meant the path of least resistance was lower and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.38 per cent.

Australia's main index shed 1.3 per cent, while Nikkei futures pointed to an opening loss of around 150 points.

On Wall Street, the drop in technology stocks knocked the Nasdaq down 2.37 per cent for its biggest decline in nearly a year. The Dow fell 1.62 per cent, while the S&P 500 lost 1.46 per cent.

Bucking the trend, Kraft Foods surged 36 per cent after a merger agreement with ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co, owned by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway.

Not helping equities was data showing spending on U.S. durable goods fell for a sixth straight month in February, fresh evidence that economic growth slowed sharply early in the year, in part due to bad weather.

That was just the latest in a run of soft U.S. indicators, a contrast to Europe where the news has been getting better.

JPMorgan noted that the gap between downward surprises on U.S. data and upward surprises on EU figures was at its widest since February last year when bad weather was also having a chilling effect on U.S. growth.

In currency markets, the dollar continued to consolidate after wild swings last week. Measured against a basket of currencies, the dollar was idling at 96.924, just above a three-week trough of 96.387 set on Tuesday. Earlier this month, it scaled a 12-year peak of 100.390.

The euro was last at US$1.0965, well off a 12-year trough of US$1.0457 plumbed two weeks ago. Against the yen, the dollar stood at 119.50, again just above a one-month trough of 119.22 set on Tuesday.

"While very tentative, the recent stability in the euro might suggest at least a near-term equilibrium has been reached," said CitiFX G10 strategist Josh O'Byrne. "Though we still see EUR risks lower, we could be entering a period of consolidation."

The break in the dollar's ascent has been a relief to some commodities with gold holding up at US$1,195 and near a three-week high.

Brent crude oil had settled Wednesday with gains of 2.5 per cent to US$56.48 a barrel. U.S. crude was trading down 43 cents at US$48.78 on Thursday.