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Asia: Stocks subdued, dollar wobbles before US jobs data


[TOKYO] Asian equities were subdued on Friday and the dollar wobbled ahead of the closely watched US jobs report, which could provide clues on the Federal Reserve's monetary policy outlook.

Shanghai shares crept up 0.1 per cent, South Korea's KOSPI shed 0.1 per cent and Australian shares lost 0.7 per cent.

Japan's Nikkei underperformed, dropping 1.2 per cent and headed for its fourth straight day of losses.

"The biggest concern for the Japanese market now is whether the dollar will weaken against the yen further," said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo. "You don't know how US stocks will perform after the jobs data release, so most investors are nervous."

Hong Kong's Hang Seng bucked the trend and rose 1 per cent, while other gainers included Malaysian and Singapore shares.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan crept up 0.1 per cent. The index was still on track to end the week a shade lower.

US stocks eked out a second straight day of gains on Thursday as a weaker dollar helped materials shares by lifting commodity prices, though disappointing forecasts from retailers and anxiety ahead of Friday's non-farm jobs report limited the advance.

The Dow rose 0.5 per cent and the S&P 500 gained 0.2 per cent.

The dollar remained firmly on the back foot after being hit this week by lacklustre economic data and dovish comments from some Fed officials that curtailed expectations of a near-term US interest rate hike.

The dollar stood little changed at 116.91 yen after sinking 1 percent overnight. The greenback, which soared close to 122 yen recently, was heading for a 3.5 per cent loss on the week. It was poised to hand back all the gains made on the Bank of Japan's surprise decision last Friday to adopt negative interest rates.

The euro was steady at US$1.1200 and headed for a 3.4 per cent gain on the week, its biggest in more than four years.

The markets will look to the US jobs data for direction, with the employment report expected to how employers adding 190,000 jobs in January, the median estimate of 108 economists polled by Reuters.

"Markets seem so determined to price out the risk of a Fed rate hike any time soon that it is hard to imagine a January US employment outcome strong enough to reignite pricing for March or June," wrote Sean Callow, a senior strategist at Westpac.

"Even after the US dollar's sharp fall in recent days, there still seems to be greater scope for a USD fall on a weak reading than for a rally on a strong outcome." The dollar index stood at 96.589 after stooping to 96.259 overnight, its lowest since late October.

Crude oil prices were up modestly, trimming some of the losses made overnight when doubts over major oil producers agreeing to joint output cut overshadowed the positive effects of a weaker dollar.

Brent crude was up 0.2 per cent at US$34.53 a barrel, poised to end the week down 0.6 per cent.

US crude was up 0.4 per cent at US$31.82 a barrel, enroute for a 5.3 per cent weekly loss.

Crude has been volatile this week, boosted momentarily by a weaker dollar but also continuing to face downward pressure from concerns towards a slowing global economy crimping demand.

Spot gold hovered near a 3-month high of US$1,157.20 an ounce, having soared this week on diminished prospects of the Fed raising rates soon. Higher interest rates would in theory reduce the appeal of non-yielding gold.


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