Nikkei down in early trade on weak data

  • 29/03/2016
An electronic board displaying the Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, March 2, 2016 (Reuters)
An electronic board displaying the Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, March 2, 2016 (Reuters)

Asian shares are struggling to find their footing after downbeat US economic data contributed to an uninspiring session on Wall Street and pressured the US dollar.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan on Tuesday edged up 0.05 percent after wavering for most of the early session.

Australian shares slumped 0.3 percent, in their first day of trade following the long Easter weekend that also closed many markets in Europe.

Japan's Nikkei skidded 0.8 percent in early trading, not helped by mixed economic data released before the market opened.

Japanese household spending rose 1.2 percent in February from a year earlier in price-adjusted real terms, in contrast with the median forecast for a 1.5 percent fall.

But the country's jobless rate inched up to 3.3 percent, and retail sales rose just 0.5 percent in February from a year earlier, falling short of the median forecast for a 1.7 percent increase.

US data released on Monday also showed signs of weakness, with consumer spending barely rising last month and inflation retreating. That suggested the Federal Reserve could remain cautious about raising interest rates this year even as the labour market rapidly tightens.

Against the yen, the US dollar edged down slightly to Y113.38, moving away from its overnight high of Y113.69.

The euro was steady at $US1.1196.

Speculation of more monetary stimulus and talk that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might delay an unpopular sales tax hike and call a snap election kept the yen under pressure, sending it to two-week lows against the US dollar and euro overnight.

Despite the divergence in monetary policy expectations, with the Fed still seen on track to hike rates this year and the Bank of Japan expected to take additional stimulus steps, the yen remained hamstrung by uncertainty over whether the BOJ will cut interest rates deeper into negative territory.

"We're still experiencing the hangover from the BOJ's negative interest rate policy, which is driving a lot of safe-haven flows," said Jennifer Vail, head of fixed-income research at US Bank Wealth Management in Portland, Oregon.

"The market is waiting to see if a further move into negative territory is going to be part of policymaker's toolbox," she said.

Crude oil extended overnight losses. Brent was down 0.2 percent at $US40.19 a barrel, while US crude fell 0.2 percent to $US39.33.