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Asia: Shares retreat on profit-taking; oil eyed

[HONG KONG] Asian shares fell on Tuesday as investors took profits after a month-long rally and investors grew wary of the market's near-term prospects ahead of major central bank meetings.

Led by China, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell more than a per cent. Japan's Nikkei and South Korea's KOSPI fell more than a percent each. "We have seen a big move in markets in a very short period of time and investors are calling time ahead of the ECB and the Fed meetings in the coming days," said Kay Van-Petersen, global macro strategist at Saxo Bank in Singapore.

The European Central Bank is widely expected to ease at Thursday's policy review, but there is a lot of uncertainty about how far it would go. Meanwhile, ahead of a US Federal Reserve policy meeting, fed fund futures 0#FF: were barely pricing in one more hike this year.

Additionally, China's February exports data released in morning trade disappointed analysts' expectations, falling 25.4 per cent from a year earlier, while imports fell by 13.8 per cent.

Still, risk sentiment was broadly upbeat as the impressive rally in commodities markets spilled over into an array of assets such as the high-yielding Australian dollar and mining giant Glencore, which is up 5 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively in a week.

Some investors talked about a potential bottom being formed in the commodity markets as large bearish bets are unwound and hopes of more coordinated measures from oil-producing countries to stem tumbling prices grew.

Brent crude futures jumped to as high as US$41.04 per barrel on Monday, extending their recovery from a 12-year trough of US$27.10 hit in January. US crude futures also rose to US$38.11 per barrel, its highest since early January.

Further improving the mood in the battered commodity sector, spot iron ore price .IO62-CNI=SI surged almost 20 percent, hitting a near nine-month high on the back of China's plans to boost short-term output.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Guillaume Long, said his government will host a meeting in Quito on Friday with Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico "to reach consensus over oil, especially prices."

In the currency market, investors rushed back to commodity-linked currencies, sending the Australian dollar to as high as US$0.7486 on Monday, its highest in almost eight months.

The Aussie last stood at US$0.7424.

The Canadian dollar also firmed to a 3-1/2-month high of C$1.3262 per US dollar and last stood at C$1.3290.

In Latin America, the Mexican peso, the Chilean peso and the Colombian peso all hit multi-month highs.

While the dollar was soft in general, major currencies saw limited moves. The euro traded at US$1.10240, holding near one-week highs of US$1.10435, ahead of the European Central Bank's policy announcement on Thursday.

The yen maintained slight gains made on Monday to trade at 113.33 yen to the dollar.

The currency hardly moved in response to data showing Japan's economy shrank an annualised 1.1 per cent in October-December, slightly less than an initial estimate of a 1.4 per cent contraction The dollar's weakness helped to underpin gold, which hit a 13-month high of US$1,280 per ounce on Monday and last stood at US$1,266.


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