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Asia: Stocks step back from decade high as China posts rare data miss

[TOKYO] Asian stocks inched down from 10-year highs on Thursday following a burst of Chinese data which was largely weaker than markets expected, while the US dollar held steady ahead of US inflation data due later in the day.

Spreadbetters expected European stocks to start slightly higher to a touch lower, forecasting Britain's FTSE to open up 0.1 per cent and Germany's DAX and France's CAC to each open 0.15 per cent lower.

China's fixed-asset investment, factory output and retail sales all grew less than expected, reinforcing views that the world's second-largest economy is gradually beginning to lose steam in the face of rising borrowing costs.

That took some of the shine off China's surprisingly robust growth in the first half of the year, which has helped fuel stronger global demand, particularly for commodities, but analysts do not see a risk of a sharp slowdown in its economic momentum.

The Australian dollar, often used as a liquid proxy of China-linked trades, pared gains after the China readings but was still up 0.25 per cent at US$0.8007 after a much stronger-than-expected jobs report.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged down 0.1 per cent after rising to its highest since 2007 the day before. China stocks dipped into the red after the data, giving up modest early gains.

Japan's Nikkei eased 0.2 per cent, while the broader Topix briefly brushed a two-year high as the yen weakened. Reaction to reports of North Korean threats to "sink" Japan were so far limited.

"Foreign investors' short-covering seems to have run its course, while China's weak data soured market sentiment," said Norihiro Fujito, a senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Australian shares lost 0.1 per cent while South Korea's Kospi was flat.

Wall Street edged up to a record high on Wednesday, with gains in consumer discretionary and energy stocks helping offset losses in technology heavyweight Apple Inc.

The US dollar stood tall, lifted as US Treasury yields climbed to 2-1/2-week highs on an ongoing improvement in broader investor risk sentiment.

But trading was subdued as traders awaited US consumer inflation data later in the day to see if it will change the perception of subdued inflation and slow credit tightening in the United States.

Expectations that the Federal Reserve will hike rates again in 2017 have waned as price pressures remain stubbornly weak.

The US dollar index, a measured against a basket of six major currencies, was at 92.472 after touching 92.530 overnight, its highest since Sept 5.

It had slumped to a 2-1/2-year low of 91.011 on Friday, when Hurricane Irma threatened the continental United States and on North Korea concerns.

"The dollar would be sold if the CPI turns out to be weak but the main focal point is how the stock market reacts to such an outcome," said Junichi Ishikawa, senior FX strategist at IG Securities in Tokyo.

"The US financial sector has benefited from the recent rise in yields. Should yields fall on lacklustre CPI data, that could be used as a pretext to sell US stocks which have already hit successive record highs."

The US dollar set a one-month high of 110.735 yen before drifting to 110.460. So far this week it has gained 2.5 per cent against its Japanese peer, a currency often sought in times of risk aversion.

The euro was down 0.1 per cent at US$1.1874 after losing 0.7 per cent the previous day, while sterling was flat at US$1.3204.

The pound hit a one-year high of US$1.3329 on Wednesday following strong domestic inflation data, with the currency market braced for the closely-watched Bank of England (BOE) policy meeting due later on Thursday.

The BOE must decide on Thursday how forcefully to phrase the prospects of a first interest rate rise in a decade when it weighs up the need to help Britain's Brexit-bound economy against tackling a jump in inflation.

In commodities, crude oil prices dipped slightly after posting a big surge overnight after the International Energy Agency (IEA) said a global surplus of crude was starting to shrink.

Brent crude futures was down 0.3 per cent at US$55.01 per barrel after reaching a five-month peak of US$55.21 the previous day.

US crude slipped 0.2 per cent to US$49.21 per barrel after rallying 2.2 per cent overnight.