Asian stocks edged down from a three-month high and the dollar eased toward three-month lows on Thursday, hit by soft U.S. data that underlined the patchy nature of the U.S. economic recovery.
Mixed data on June durable goods orders and a downbeat Federal Reserve take on the economy became the latest in a string of lackluster indicators to suggest the momentum of the U.S. economic recovery is slowing, broadly dampening investor sentiment.
Traders said a move back into riskier assets had cooled a bit after the Fed's Beige Book of anecdotal reports pointed to a less-than-booming recovery, with sluggish housing markets and sales of costly items such as new cars weakening.
Profit-taking is coming to the fore because coupled with worries about the uncertain outlook for the U.S. and European economies, U.S. stocks seem to be peaking, said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.
Asian shares fell after hitting their highest level since May 5 on Wednesday, buoyed by robust corporate earnings in the U.S. and Europe that helped ease, albeit temporarily, concerns that the global economy may stall in the second half.
The MSCI index of Asia Pacific shares ex-Japan edged down 0.2 percent.
Information technology shares were the biggest losers across the region, a reflection of renewed concern over U.S. demand, while healthcare stocks edged higher as investors turned defensive, seeking out shares seen as resilient in the face of economic volatility overseas.
Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> lost 0.5 percent to 9,700.42 as investors took profits after a rally that lifted the benchmark to a two-week closing high on Wednesday <.T>.
Panasonic Corp <6752.T> tumbled over 5 percent after sources told Reuters it plans to acquire the shares it does not already own in Sanyo Electric Co <6764.T> and Panasonic Electric Works Co Ltd <6991.T>. Sanyo shares soared more than 26 percent.
A slew of companies, including Panasonic, Sony Corp <6758.T> and Nissan Motor Co <7201.T>, all report earnings later in the day as Japan's earnings season peaks.
Australian shares <.AXJO> fell 0.4 percent, dragged down by banks as confidence took a hit from the downbeat Beige Book, while shares in Hong Kong slipped 0.2 percent, shrugging off modest gains in Shanghai.
Attention is now turning to U.S. jobless claims later in the day and U.S. second quarter GDP on Friday.
A Reuters poll showed annual U.S. growth in the quarter was expected to slow to 2.5 percent from 2.7 percent in the first quarter amid a cooling in consumer demand, but a recent flurry of weak data suggest it lost some momentum heading into summer.
KIWI STRUGGLES, DOLLAR SOFT
The New Zealand dollar fell sharply after the Reserve Bank of Zealand signaled the pace of further interest rate hikes would be less than earlier thought, though it later staged a mild recovery.
The central bank lifted interest rates by a quarter point on Thursday, as widely expected, but said further hikes would probably be more gradual because of a deteriorating outlook for the country's main trading partners and subdued domestic demand.
The kiwi fell to as low as $0.7207, from $0.7280 before the announcement, before staging a mild recovery.
The neutral statement and revised market expectations for future rate decisions will help in taking upside pressure off the kiwi, said Josh Williamson, an analyst at Citi.
The dollar index <.DXY> against a basket of major currencies was down 0.1 percent at 82.11 after the weak U.S. data, with near-term support at 81.44, the 50 percent retracement of the index's move from a low of 74.17 in December 2009 to a high of 88.71 on June 7.
The greenback also lost ground against the yen, edging down 0.2 percent to 87.28 yen.
The euro consolidated below $1.30, but held near 11-week highs against the dollar as concerns shifted from Europe's debt crisis to the uneven U.S. economy.
But gold rebounded, although gains could be limited after holdings in the world's largest gold-backed ETF (exchange-traded fund) SPDR Gold Trust dropped to their weakest since June.
Spot gold rose to $1,165.25 an ounce by 10:06 p.m. ET after falling as low as $1,156.90 on Wednesday, its weakest since late April.
U.S. crude futures were little changed at around $77 a barrel after falling for a second session overnight on a surprise build in U.S. crude oil inventories.
(Additional reporting by Aiko Hayashi and Anirban Nag)