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Yen up, Asia markets down as Bank of Japan in focus

[HONG KONG] The yen rallied and Asian stock markets traded cautiously in the morning as investors focus on a Bank of Japan policy meeting that wraps up later in the day with expectations it will ramp up its stimulus programme.

The much-anticipated gathering comes two days after the government in Tokyo launched a fresh programme worth 28 trillion yen to kickstart the Japanese economy.

World markets have soared in July as Britain's shock vote to leave sparked promises of support from central banks and governments in a bid to fend off a feared hit to the global economy.

Among the options, the BoJ could expand its mammoth asset buying plan or cut interest rates further into negative territory in a bid to stir lending and stoke the wider economy.

But while the hope for fresh measures has helped push the yen lower in recent weeks, helping the country's exporters, worries have set in over the past few sessions that BoJ policymakers could come up short.

"There's been a reasonable amount of uncertainty as evidenced by the contrasting views in the market in the run-up to the meeting," Chris Green, the Auckland-based director of economics and strategy at First NZ Capital Group, told Bloomberg News.

"There's increasing pressure to ease further from here. We're likely to see some sort of coordinated action between the BoJ and the government." The need for more support was highlighted Friday with data showing core Japanese consumer prices fell for a fourth straight month in June, the latest sign that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive fire inflation is struggling to gain traction.

In early trade the US dollar bought 103.90 yen, against from 105.32 yen in New York and well down from the levels above 107 yen touched last week.

Tokyo was down 0.6 per cent, Hong Kong slipped 0.7 per cent, Shanghai lost 0.3 per cent and Sydney gave up 0.1 per cent, while Singapore shed 0.8 per cent. Seoul edged up 0.1 per cent.

"Markets are nervous ahead of the BoJ meeting," Yuji Saito, Tokyo-based head of the foreign-exchange department at Credit Agricole SA, said.