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Asia: Stocks down after US losses, Greece fears hit euro


[ HONG KONG] Asian markets sank Wednesday following a big sell-off on Wall Street, with Tokyo hit by profit-taking after an eight-day rally while fears that Greece will default on its debt obligations dragged the euro down.

An upbeat batch of US data has put wind back in the sails of the dollar, which is sitting near an eight-year high against the yen as the chances of an interest rate hike increase.

Hong Kong fell 0.49 per cent, Sydney shed 0.76 per cent and Seoul lost 1.50 per cent, while Tokyo was down 0.10 per cent and Shanghai gave up 0.53 per cent.

US traders fled to the sidelines on Tuesday as they returned from a long weekend to a strong dollar, which hurts exporters.

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Modest improvements in US consumer confidence, home sales and prices, and orders for core industrial goods pointed to a pick-up in growth in the world's biggest economy.

The data, along with comments Friday from Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen that she expects to hike interest rates "at some point this year", put upward pressure on the dollar.

In early trade the greenback was at 123.19 yen in Tokyo, against 123.09 yen in New York late Tuesday.

The greenback on Tuesday rose past 123.30 yen briefly, its highest since mid-2007.

"Whether it's durable goods, housing data or consumer confidence, US data are all above market expectations," Hiroichi Nishi, a manager at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News.

"This leads to the view that the rate hike will come within this year." On Wall Street the Dow tumbled 1.04 per cent, the S&P 500 fell 1.03 per cent and the Nasdaq lost 1.11 per cent.

The long-running saga over Greece's bailout reform continues to drag on confidence, with the country unable to reach an agreement with its creditors that will release much needed cash to help it avoid a default.

With a June 5 repayment deadline for Athens, the two sides are still no closer to a deal that will unlock the last batch of bailout money. There are fears that a Greek default could see the country tumbling out of the eurozone, spooking global investors.

The euro was at US$1.0871 and 133.91 yen Wednesday, compared with US$1.0879 and 133.92 yen in US trade. The single currency has plunged from US$1.1149 and 134.54 yen last week owing to the Greek worries.

On oil markets US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July delivery rose 36 cents to US$58.39 while Brent crude for July gained 29 cents to US$64.01.

Gold fetched US$1,187.05 compared with US$1,195.35 late Tuesday.