Asian shares drop on Fed minutes, dollar extends gain

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Published January 03, 2013

| Reuters

Asian shares fell on Friday, tracking overnight weakness in global equities, but the dollar gained as U.S. debt yields rose after several Federal Reserve officials expressed concerns about continuing to expand stimulative bond buying.

Minutes from the Fed's December policy meeting released on Thursday showed some voting members of the Federal Open Market Committee were increasingly concerned about the potential risks of the Fed's asset purchases on financial markets, even if it look set to continue an open-ended stimulus program for now.

The Fed's asset buying policy has been a crucial factor underpinning investor risk appetite and supporting global equities, so the more hawkish Fed minutes unnerved financial markets on Thursday, driving benchmark U.S. Treasury yields up to a near eight-month high and weighing on equities and oil, while bolstering the dollar.

The dollar extended gains early in Asia on Friday, hitting its highest since July 2010 against the yen at 87.78 while the euro fell to a three-week low of $1.3022. The U.S. dollar hit a near four-week high against a basket of major currencies on Thursday.

"The minutes have added a fresh degree of uncertainty into the investment climate, which is likely to mean a steeper yield curve. But equity investors should take heart from the fact that the Fed's perception is qualified on an improving economy," Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York, said in a note to clients.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> fell 0.4 percent, after scaling its highest since August 2011 on Thursday.

Australian shares slipped 0.5 percent, with investors pulling back after a sharp two-day rally which took shares to their highest in more than 19 months on Thursday.

"U.S. equities were due for a correction at any rate ... and the same is true of the KOSPI. Investors would do well to buy while shares are easing," Lee Seung-woo, an analyst at KDB Daewoo Securities, said of South Korean shares <.KS11>, which opened down 0.1 percent.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.N225> opened sharply higher, up 2 percent, to its highest since March 2011 on the back of the tumbling yen. Japanese markets were closed from December 31 to January 3 for the new year's holidays. The Nikkei ended 2012 with the sharpest yearly gain since 2005.

U.S. lawmakers earlier this week narrowly avoided falling off a "fiscal cliff" of automatic higher taxes and spending cuts, which had been set to kick in at the start of the year and threatened to derail the U.S. economy, providing an immediate boost for financial markets.

But U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans face tough talks on spending cuts and an increase in the nation's debt limit as the hard-fought deal to avert the fiscal cliff covered only taxes and delayed decisions on expenditures until March 1.

Investor sentiment was, on the other hand, supported by recent data showing activity in China's services sector and at U.S. factories expanded in December, which brightened the outlook for global growth.

The U.S. jobs market remained on a recovery track, with data on Thursday showing U.S. private-sector employers shrugged off the budget wrangling and stepped up hiring in December, heightening hopes for a strong nonfarm payrolls report due later on Friday.

The U.S. economy likely added 150,000 jobs in December, according to a Reuters survey of economists, up from 146,000 in November. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.7 percent.

Resolution of the U.S. fiscal cliff crisis could spell trouble for some Asian assets that are coming off a stellar 2012 as investors could start to shift some money out of overpriced Asian investments in favour of the U.S. on a view that the fiscal deal manages to avert a U.S. recession and so boosts the prospects for American stocks.

U.S. crude inched down 0.2 percent to $82.78 a barrel.

(Additional reporting by Somang Yang in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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