Asia: Shares drop, dollar hits 13-year high vs yen

[TOKYO] Asian shares shed gains on Thursday as the Chinese, Hong Kong and Australian markets slipped, while the dollar scaled a 13-year peak against the yen as it rallied on expectations the US Federal Reserve will raise rates this year.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped about 0.6 per cent.

The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell 1.6 per cent, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.4 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 1.4 per cent.

Australian shares gave up early gains, with the S&P/ASX 200 index down about 0.3 per cent, after weaker than expected business spending data suggested that rate cuts were failing to energise the economy as hoped.

Japan's Nikkei bucked the downtrend, as the weaker yen helped keep the index on track for its 10th consecutive rise, which would give it the longest winning streak since February 1988. It rose 0.7 per cent after refreshing an intraday 15-year high. "I thought the market would see a correction given the straight days of gains, but contrary to my initial view, it's being lifted by the weak yen," said Masashi Oda, chief investment officer at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.

The dollar hit a 13-year high against the yen, rising as higher as 124.30, and was last up 0.4 per cent at 124.12.

The dollar's latest rally was sparked by remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who said last Friday that she expected the central bank to raise rates this year as the US economy was set to recover from a sluggish first quarter.

By contrast, many investors expect the Bank of Japan to take additional easing steps later this year, when the Fed is expected to start raising rates. "Longer term, little stands in the way of further JPY losses," said Greg Moore, senior currency strategist at RBC in Sydney.

An index tracking the dollar against a basket of six major currencies hit a one-month high of 97.775 and was last down slightly on the day at 97.289, as the euro recovered from recent lows on hopes of a deal for Greece.

The euro changed hands at US$1.0905, slightly higher on the day and above a one-month low of US$1.0819 touched on Wednesday.

Although there are conflicting reports on the talks, some investors are betting on the kind of last-minute deals that have prevented a default since Greece's debt crisis began more than five years ago.

Greek officials spoke optimistically on Wednesday of reaching a cash-for-reforms deal, with economy minister George Stathakis saying Greece and its international creditors have converged on key points.

But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said there was not much progress in the debt talks and that he was surprised by the upbeat tone from some Greek government officials.

Uncertainty over whether Greece can get the support it needs to make payments to the International Monetary Fund on June 5 is likely to keep investors cautious for now.

Crude oil prices recovered after a two-day slide, although the firmer dollar kept markets under pressure.

Brent crude futures climbed about 0.7 per cent to US$62.51 a barrel, while US crude futures were up 0.3 per cent at US$57.69 per barrel.


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