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Asia: Stocks on defensive on weak China data, Fed rate view

[TOKYO] Asian shares were on the defensive on Monday after new indications of a slowdown in the Chinese economy strained the nerves of markets already unsettled by the prospect of a US interest rate hike in September.

Japan's Nikkei fell 0.4 per cent and South Korean shares dropped 0.3 per cent. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan stood near its 1 1/2-year low hit last month and stood flat.

"The markets are beginning to price in structurally lower growth in China and an end to the so-called commodity super-cycle," said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

Chinese exports tumbled 8.3 per cent in July, their biggest drop in four months and far worse than economists' forecast of a one per cent fall, data showed on Saturday.

Producer price deflation deepened to 5.4 per cent, sending wholeale prices to their lowest since late 2009.

The data came as many emerging currencies came under pressure from expectations that the US Federal Reserve will end nearly a decade of its zero interest rates.

The US Department of Labor said on Friday employers added 215,000 jobs in July, only slightly below a Reuters poll of 223,000 jobs. The unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.3 per cent and there were signs that wages were beginning to pick up.

Taken together, the figures promoted traders to ratchet up expectations that the Fed would raise interest rates in September, even though money market futures pricing 0#FF: 0#ED: suggest it remained a close call.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 per cent, hitting a six-month low. The S&P 500 shed also about 0.3 per cent.

Emerging market shares were beaten harder, with MSCI's emerging market index falling to a two-year low on Friday.

The prospect of higher US interest rates has made the dollar more attractive to investors in the past year, which in turn has lowered demand for commodities and crimped US corporate earnings from exports.

The US dollar index, which tracks the greenback versus a basket of euro, yen and four other currencies, reached 98.334, its highest since late April after the US job data, before turning lower. On Monday, it stood at 97.670.

The euro traded at US$1.0957 while the yen was 124.35 to the dollar.

Oil prices kept sliding on the global slowdown, a US gasoline glut and a rise in the US oil rig count.

Crude futures prices fell to fresh multi-month lows early on Monday. Brent fell to US$48.26 per barrel, not far from a six-year low of US$45.19 hit in January.