Asian shares wobble, on track for monthly loss

A pedestrian looks at a quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on May 27.
A pedestrian looks at a quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on May 27.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares wobbled in early trade on Tuesday (May 31) and were on track for a monthly loss, while the US dollar edged away from recent peaks scaled on heightened expectations the US Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as next month.

Underpinning Asian sentiment, European shares hit one-month highs on Monday amid otherwise light trade with markets in London and New York closed for public holidays.

"With UK and US markets closed overnight, Asian markets will be looking to Europe for leads today," Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG, said in a note.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat in early trading, ending more than 2 per cent lower for the month.

Japan's Nikkei stock index slipped 0.3 per cent after rallying 1.4 per cent in the previous session. It was up 2 per cent for May, getting a tailwind from a weaker yen.

Data released earlier in the session showed Japanese industrial output unexpectedly rose 0.3 per cent in April, suggesting production is holding up despite weak exports and the impact from a series of earthquakes that struck southern Japan during that month.

Against the yen, the dollar slipped 0.3 per cent to 110.83 . But it rose to as high as 111.455 in the previous session, its loftiest peak in a month, and was on track to notch a gain of 4 per cent in May.

The euro inched up 0.1 per cent to US$1.1149 but remained not far above a 2-1/2 month low of US$1.1097 hit in the previous session.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six rival currencies, edged up 0.1 per cent to 95.568 , not far from a two-month high of 95.968 and up nearly 3 per cent for the month.

The dollar surged on expectations of higher US interest rates after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday that the central bank should hike rates "in the coming months" if economic growth picks up and the labour market continues to improve.

Against that backdrop, the US non-farm payrolls report for May due on Friday will garner even more attention than usual. A solid reading could further heighten expectations for a move as soon as the Federal Reserve's next policy meeting on June 14-15.

Economists predict the report would show that US employers added 170,000 jobs, slightly more than they did in April. Hourly wages are expected to show a 0.2 per cent increase from the previous month.

Moves in crude oil futures were limited ahead of Thursday's meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Most analysts did not expect any changes in the group's production.

There was no Monday settlement for US crude futures because of the US Memorial Day holiday. In early Asian trade, it was up 0.3 per cent at US$49.50. Brent crude futures settled up 44 cents at US$49.76 a barrel.