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Asia: Shares falter, dollar at 16-month peak on Europe, Brexit woes

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[SYDNEY] Asian shares stumbled on Tuesday after a rout in tech stocks inflicted a hefty sell-off on Wall Street, while the dollar hit a 16-month peak on safe haven bets amid political risks in Europe and acrimonious Sino-US trade relations.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.4 per cent to a 1-1/2 week trough, with Australian and New Zealand shares opening sharply lower.

The Asia ex-Japan index is down 15.5 percent so far this year, after a solid 33.5 per cent gain in 2017, with October the worst month since mid-2015.

Concerns about a slowdown in China and the Asian region more broadly due to US tariffs on Chinese goods had spooked investors, sparking the largest monthly foreign outflows from Asia last month since August 2011, said Khoon Goh, Singapore-based head of Asia research for ANZ Banking Group.

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Funds returned over the early part of November on hopes that US-China tensions would ease, Mr Goh added, with the focus squarely on a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this month.

"The outcome of the meeting will have an important influence on portfolio flows in Asia into the end of the year," Mr  Goh added.

Worryingly, the Trump administration is broadening its China trade battle beyond tariffs with a plan to use export controls, indictments and other tools to counter the theft of intellectual property, the Wall Street Journal reported citing sources.

Asian markets have also been hammered as risk assets have been hurt by rising US interest rates.

Overnight in Wall Street, major US stock indexes dropped more than 1 per cent, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq slumping over 2 per cent. Indexes were weighed down by a 4.3 per cent slump in index heavyweight Apple, after three iPhone parts suppliers issued warning on results.

In Europe, fears about a no-deal Brexit and a growing rift over Italy's budget hit the euro and the pound, pushing the dollar's index to 97.64 against a basket of currencies, a level not seen seen mid 2017.

The greenback also strengthened on bets the US Federal Reserve will increase interest rates next month.

The Fed's San Francisco President Mary Daly said on Monday the US central bank should continue to raise rates gradually with her "modal" forecast showing two to three rate hikes over the next period of time.

The euro was last at US$1.12 after breaking below important chart support of US$1.13.

Sterling fell to US$1.285 after three straight sessions of losses took it to the lowest since Nov 1 as there were still considerable unresolved issues with the European Union over Brexit, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday.

Oil prices fell again after declining for a record 11th consecutive session amid softening demand and as Trump said he hoped there would be no oil output reductions.

US crude fell 82 cents to US$59.11 a barrel. Brent crude futures slipped US$1.20 to US$68.97.

Spot gold was a tad firmer at US$1,201.4.

REUTERS