Asian shares slip after strong start to week on US cues

Pedestrians walking past an electronic stock board displaying the closing figure of the Nikkei Stock Average at a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan.
Pedestrians walking past an electronic stock board displaying the closing figure of the Nikkei Stock Average at a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Asian shares edged lower on Wednesday (March 8) after the week's strong start as investors took profits in the wake of a weak Wall Street and in anticipation that US interest rates will rise next week for the second time in three months.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 per cent in early trade, a day after posting its biggest single-day rise in more than two weeks. Australia's markets led early losers.

The Federal Reserve has a rate-setting policy meeting on March 14-15.

"Unless the (US) February payrolls report due on March 10 is an unmitigated disaster, an outcome we do not expect, a March 15 hike is on the way," Societe Generale strategists said.

Markets have quickly boosted bets of a rate hike at the meeting after recent hawkish comments by US policymakers. Investors have turned increasingly cautious on the outlook for pricey stock markets, despite recent encouraging data from emerging markets, particularly China.

China's trade data due later on Wednesday may show export growth at multi-year highs thanks to recovering global demand. On Tuesday, key exporter Taiwan reported solid shipments for the first two months of 2017.

US shares closed lower on Tuesday as weakness in drug and financial shares sent the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average to their first consecutive sessions of declines in more than a month.

Bond markets are also scenting a rate hike around the corner with 10-year US Treasury yields poised to break out of a three-month trading range. On Wednesday, it was at 2.54 percent, compared to 2.49 per cent on Friday.

Higher bond yields have burnished the US dollar's outlook with the greenback changing hands at 113.91 Japanese yen, compared to 111.75 at end-February.

Commodity markets painted a slightly more cautious picture with copper prices declining despite recent strong China while oil prices stuck to recent trading ranges. Global benchmark Brent fell 0.5 per cent to US$52.90 per barrel.