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Asia markets buoyed by benign China trade data, dollar slips vs yen


[TOKYO] Asian stocks were mostly firmer after benign Chinese economic data helped offset risk aversion generated by a continuing slide in crude oil prices, while the dollar fell to a one-month low against the safe-haven yen.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan pared earlier losses to rise 0.3 per cent after Chinese trade data proved better than expected.

The indicators provided relief as recent signs of weakness in the world's second largest economy has been central in worries over global growth.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.7 per cent and the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.8 per cent.

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But Australian shares were down 0.3 per cent, highlighting still prevalent concerns about tumbling crude oil prices.

Japan's Nikkei underperformed its Asian peers and shed 1.7 per cent as investors returned after a three-day weekend. "Today's drop is due to negative news accumulated during the long weekend," said Takuya Takahashi, an analyst at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo. "Even US jobs data were mixed, and US earnings weren't good." US job growth increased briskly in December, but wages posted their biggest decline in at least eight years, even with a tighter labour market.

Declining oil prices added to concerns about US corporate results as the release of earnings goes into full swing, with profit forecasts for S&P 500 energy companies having dropped sharply in recent months. "Only the negative aspects of cheaper crude oil have been in focus so far, but attention could turn to its positive attributes if US data on Wednesday can confirm an expansion in private consumption," said Junichi Ishikawa, market analyst at IG Securities in Tokyo.

Brent crude was down 1.6 per cent at US$46.68 a barrel after dropping 5 percent Monday to a near six-year low after Goldman Sachs warned that prices would fall further and as Gulf producers showed no sign of curtailing output.

In currencies the dollar retreated to a one-month low of 117.74 yen against the Japanese currency, a haven that benefits when investors become wary of risk assets.

The greenback was unable to hold its ground after briefly rising above 119 yen on Monday and remains far from a 7-1/2 year peak of 121.86 struck late in December.

The dollar's sluggishness against the yen, exacerbated by a drop in U.S. Treasury yields, helped the euro steady at US$1.1843 . The common currency continued to put some distance between a nine-year low of US$1.1754 hit late last week.

The sell-off in equities worldwide over the past few sessions has been a further boon for government debt.

The US 30-year bond yield fell to a near-record low overnight, while the five-year Japanese yield touched a record low of zero percent.

Sterling was stuck near 18-month lows against the dollar ahead of data later in the session seen likely to show easing UK inflation, which would further douse expectations of the Bank of England hiking rates.

The pound fetched US$1.5180, staying close to the 18-month trough of US$1.5034 plumbed last week.