Asia shares sluggish, oil drifts lower

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets got off to a sluggish start on Monday in a week book ended with Easter holidays across the globe and a U.S. jobs report that could impact the timing of the first hike in interest rates there.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was off 0.2 per cent. Australia's main index lost 0.8 per cent amid weakness in commodity prices.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on Friday reaffirmed that rates would likely start rising later this year but emphasised the pace of tightening would be gradual and data dependent.

The conditional outlook helped nudge longer-dated Treasury yields lower and left the dollar listless for the moment. It fetched 119.22 yen on Monday, just a whisker higher than at the end of last week and short of the near eight-year peak of 122.04 set early this month.

The euro was little changed at US$1.0886, having in the last two weeks pulled up from a 12-year trough of US$1.0457.

On Wall Street the Dow ended Friday up 0.19 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.24 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.57 per cent.

Shares in Intel Corp jumped on reports it was in talks to buy rival Altera Corp, sending the PHLX semiconductor index up 2.8 per cent.

Oil had retreated 5 per cent on Friday as Yemen's conflict looked less likely to disrupt Middle East crude shipments and investors turned their focus to talks for a potential Iran nuclear deal that could put more supply on the market.

Early Monday, U.S. crude was 54 cents lower at US$48.33 a barrel. Brent eased 39 cents to US$56.02 a barrel.

The data diary in Asia is bare on Monday with figures on German inflation, European confidence and U.S. personal income and spending due later in the session.

Flash inflation data for the euro zone are due Tuesday and manufacturing surveys on China are out the day after. Yet that should just be an appetiser for Friday's U.S. payrolls report.

Economists polled by Reuters are forecasting a healthy 244,000 rise in non-farm payrolls in March. If confirmed, it would be the 13th straight month of job gains of over 200,000, a run not seen since 1994-95.

The market reaction will be complicated by holidays across much of the western world on Friday. Only some U.S. markets will be open and then only for shortened hours.

Investors will again have to keep a wary eye on Greece and its talks with international creditors where the parties are struggling to come up with a list of acceptable reforms.

Greece will run out of money by April 20 if it does not secure funding from its European partners, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.

Rating agency Fitch cut Greece's credit status on Friday due to uncertainty over the release of aid.

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