Asia markets braced for China data after US disappoints

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian share markets took a cautious stance on Wednesday ahead of an anxiously-awaited reading on China's growth pulse, while the US dollar nursed losses after a disappointing reading on consumer spending nudged bond yields lower.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was all but flat, while Japan's Nikkei inched down 0.2 per cent.

China's annual economic growth likely slowed to a six-year low of 7 per cent in the first quarter as demand at home and abroad faltered, fanning expectations of more policy stimulus to avert a sharper slowdown.

A poor trade performance in March has stirred talk growth could even be under the psychologically important 7 per cent level, a result that would likely hamper regional stocks and hit commodity currencies such as the Australian dollar.

Yet China's stock markets have tended to focus on the prospect of extra stimulus and touched fresh seven-year highs on Tuesday. The Shanghai Composite has been rising for six weeks straight and is probably due a pause for consolidation.

Wall Street had ended mostly higher on Tuesday, helped by energy stocks and quarterly earnings reports that topped modest expectations following worries about a strong dollar.

The Dow rose 0.33 per cent and the S&P 500 0.16 per cent, while the Nasdaq fell 0.22 per cent.

After the bell, Intel Corp forecast revenue broadly in line with Wall Street's low expectations and signalled a hefty cut in capital expenditure this year, sending its shares up almost 3 per cent.

The latest U.S data disappointed those hoping for a strong rebound after a soft start to the year. Retail sales for March rose by less than expected and downward revisions to the previous two months left consumer spending looking a lot less healthy than first assumed.

The International Monetary Fund also trimmed forecasts for U.S. growth, even as it nudged up estimates for Europe and Japan.

Treasuries rallied on the underwhelming retail data and yields on the 10-year note dipped to 1.8932 per cent, from 1.939 per cent at the start of the week.

The dollar took the opposite tack and suffered its biggest one-day loss against a basket of currencies in nearly two weeks. Early Wednesday, the dollar index was steady at 98.780.

The euro bounced to US$1.0640, and away from Monday's trough around US$1.0520. Against the yen, the dollar sank as deep as 119.07, well off a recent high of 120.84. It was last at 119.50 in Asian trade.

Crude oil was firmer after a forecast that U.S. shale oil output would record its first monthly decline in more than four years and on tensions in Yemen.

U.S. crude was up 18 cents at US$53.46 a barrel, having risen 3.3 per cent on Tuesday, while Brent added 31 cents to US$58.74 a barrel.

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