Asian shares eased on Wednesday, as concerns about China's slowing economy dampened the optimism generated by a brightening outlook for the U.S. economy that has been pushing equity markets higher since late last year.
But financial spreadbetters predicted major European markets <.FTSE> <.FCHI> <.GDAXI> would open up to 0.7 percent higher, rebounding from the previous session's falls. U.S. stock futures edged up 0.2 percent after Wall Street also lost ground on Tuesday. <.EU> <.L> <.N>
The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index <.MIAPJ0000PUS> fell 0.5 percent, led by declines in shares in Hong Kong <.HSI> and Shanghai <.SSEC> and resource-reliant Australia <.AXJO>, which counts China as its single biggest export market.
The pan-Asia index has risen about 12 percent this year and is up about 25 percent from the lows hit in early October, when fears about a euro zone financial meltdown were at their peak.
Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> eased 0.5 percent, moving away from an 8-1/2-month high touched on Monday. <.T>
Some see the drop as an adjustment to an uptrend in place since early October, and a precursor to further gains.
The market is caught in a tug-of-war between concerns about China's slowdown and expectations for monetary easing to support growth, said Hirokazu Yuihama, senior strategist at Daiwa Capital Markets in Tokyo.
Asian shares have generally climbed without a major hitch since the October lows, so there is naturally an incentive to book profits, but I see it as a consolidation phase to build fresh long positions.
Commodity-linked currencies such as the Australian dollar steadied after taking a hit on Tuesday on concerns that China's flattening growth in iron ore demand would hurt key exporters of the commodity, while a rise in Chinese retail energy prices stoked fears they would undermine growth.
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China fuel prices vs U.S. crude prices:
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The euro rose to a 1-1/2-week high of $1.3284 (8366 pence). The dollar <.DXY> eased 0.2 percent against a basket of major currencies, helping to nudge spot gold up 0.2 percent to $1,653 (1,041.00 pounds) an ounce. Copper rebounded 0.4 percent to $8,468 (5,332.83 pounds) a tonne on technical buying after falling to more than a one-week low in the prior session on Chinese demand concerns.
Asian credit markets, which had rallied sharply earlier in the week, steadied, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index narrowing by 1 basis point.
CHINA PROPERTY WEAKNESS
Some raised more concerns about the slowdown in the Chinese property market.
People are still underestimating the extent to which the property market is slowing down, said Guy Stear, head of research with Societe Generale in Hong Kong. Investors should still be reducing the risk, with a bigger pullback likely in the Chinese stock markets, Stear said.
Chinese home prices fell in February from January for a fifth consecutive month and are expected to continue heading south in coming months.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao last week said he would stick to property tightening measures to deflate asset bubbles, dimming the outlook for Chinese developers.
We are in a transition phase right now, said Francis Cheung, CLSA's Hong Kong-China equity strategist. Markets have been weak but people are not totally bearish. They are taking some profits now with earnings not fantastic and are waiting for a clearer macro picture to emerge in China.
FOCUS ON U.S. DATA
Market sentiment has recently been consistently underpinned by encouraging signs of economic recovery in the United States, the world's largest economy, with the latest data on Tuesday showing steady improvement in the housing market.
If U.S. data remains solid U.S. yields may continue to track higher, while Europe faces some risks to this euro strength from the Italian labour reform talks and continued poor economic news from Spain, said Christopher Gothard, head of FX for Brown Brothers Harriman in Hong Kong.
While Greece this week received its first batch of bailout funds to ride out the huge debt repayments falling due this month, Italy is set to for a collision course with the country's biggest trade union after talks on reform to an employment protection law failed to produce a deal on Tuesday.
Oil recovered on Wednesday after dropping nearly 2 percent the day before when Saudi Arabia sought to stem a price rise which has threatened the global economy.
Brent crude rose 0.3 percent to $124.48 (78.39 pounds) a barrel on Wednesday after settling down $1.59 (1.00 pounds), while U.S. crude was up 0.5 percent to $106.57 (67.11 pounds) a barrel, after settling down $2.48 (1.56 pounds).
(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano in Singapore and Clement Tan in Hong Kong; Editing by Alex Richardson)