Asian shares edge down as US CPI data, Yellen speech revive rate hike expectations

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares got off to a lacklustre start on Monday, after rising inflation and a hawkish tone from the U.S. Federal Reserve Chair rekindled expectations that the Fed is on track to hike interest rates.

Activity was likely to be thin this session, as UK and U.S. markets are shut on Monday for the Spring Bank Holiday and Memorial Day respectively. European centres such as Germany will be observing the Whit Monday holiday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down about 0.1 per cent in early trade.

Japan's Nikkei stock index added 0.3 per cent, getting a tailwind from a weaker yen and trade data released before market open showed a better-than-expected rise in April exports.

U.S. shares fell and Treasury yields and the dollar rose on Friday, after the U.S. Labor Department's gauge on core consumer goods prices rose by 0.3 per cent last month, bringing the year-on-year rise to 1.8 percent, the highest since October.

"For the first time in nearly two months, investors began rewarding the dollar for good economic data rather than punishing it for weaker data," Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, said in a note to clients.

In a speech to a business group in Providence, Rhode Island, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said she expected economic data to strengthen and noted that some of the U.S. economy's weakness at the start of the year might be due to "statistical noise."

But the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasuries came off its Friday highs as ongoing worries about Greece's financial situation underpinned demand for safe-haven fixed income assets. It stood at 2.214 percent in early Asian trade, compared with its U.S. close of 2.229 percent.

Greece cannot make debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund next month unless it manages to reach a deal with its lenders, its interior minister said on Sunday, in the most explicit remarks so far from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail.

That kept pressure on the euro, which was down about 0.2 per cent at US$1.0996, pushing to its lowest levels since late April.

The dollar was slightly higher against its Japanese counterpart at 121.56 yen, trading at its highest levels since mid-March.

Oil futures steadied after skidding ahead of the long U.S. holiday weekend, giving up about 2 per cent on Friday as a rallying dollar and profit-taking took their toll.

U.S. crude added about 0.3 per cent to US$59.88 after eking out a small weekly rise to extend its weekly gains for a 10th straight week.

Brent was up about 02 per cent at US$65.50 after dropping 2.1 per cent for the week.