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Asia: Stocks fall as Japan goes ex-dividend, pharma shares slide

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[SYDNEY] Asian stocks fell for the first time in three days as health-care companies led losses and more than two-thirds of the companies in Japan's Topix index traded without the right to the next dividend.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slipped 0.4 per cent to 127.55 as of 9:01 am in Tokyo. The gauge is up 7.1 per cent since the start of March, on course for the best month since October. The Topix slid 0.8 per cent. Data Monday showed the Federal Reserve's preferred measure of inflation slowed, clouding the outlook for higher interest rates in 2016. US equity exchanges saw their slowest trading day of the year, while markets in Hong Kong and Australia reopen Tuesday.

"Much of Wall Street's rebound, and indeed that of global markets, over the last five weeks has been driven by expectations for continued policy accommodation from the world's central banks," said Matthew Sherwood, head of investment strategy at Perpetual Ltd in Sydney, which manages about US$21 billion.

"It is no surprise that the market rally is showing signs of fatigue. A weak recovery despite record stimulus remains a tough environment for risk markets."

Market voices on:

Clues on the trajectory of US interest rates will come this week from reports due on employment, manufacturing, housing and consumer confidence. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to speak at an event hosted by the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday.

Spending Slows

A report Monday showed American personal spending barely increased in February and the prior month's advance was revised down as consumers saved more of their incomes. A separate measure showed contracts to purchase previously owned homes rebounded more than forecast in February as sales picked up in most of the US. Data Friday showed the US economy grew at a faster pace in the fourth quarter than previously estimated.

Some 1,505 of the 1931 companies in the Topix go ex- dividend on Tuesday, equating to a 13.2 point drag on the Japanese benchmark measure.

South Korea's Kospi index rose 0.1 per cent.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index fell 0.7 per cent, while New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 Index added 0.1 per cent. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd declined 2.1 per cent, adding to a 5.2 per cent slump on Thursday after its surprise warning of a blowout in bad-debt charges.

E-mini futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were little changed after the underlying gauge eked out a 0.1 per cent gain on Monday, climbing for the first time in four days. About 5.2 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, the fewest since Dec 30.