Asian shares ease on caution before U.S. elections


Asian shares fell on Monday, tracking a sell-off in global shares late last week, as investors continued to shed risk ahead of the closely fought U.S. presidential election and looked past a strong U.S. jobs data to fragile economic growth worldwide.

The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> fell 0.3 percent after climbing to its highest since October 23 on Friday.

Continue Reading Below

Australian shares were down 0.4 percent and South Korean shares <.KS11> opened down 0.7 percent.

"There is an absence of upward momentum, but economic data such as U.S. jobs were better than forecast last week, so the main index is expected to remain boxed in range before the U.S. elections," Cho Sung-joon, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities, said of Seoul shares.

Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> opened down 0.6 percent after closing at a one-week high on Friday.

The political uncertainty in the world's largest economy made investors wary of holdings risk assets, and their safe-haven bids buoyed the U.S. dollar to two-month highs against a basket of major currencies on Monday.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney were neck-and-neck in opinion polls in the final 48 hours before Tuesday's vote.

Obama's re-election is perceived as negative for equities, while markets see Romney as stock-friendly, analysts have said.

After the U.S. election, Congress must deal with a "fiscal cliff" - up to $600 billion in expiring tax cuts and spending reductions that are set to kick in next year - which threatens to hurt the U.S. economy.

"Investors hate uncertainty, so there will be a sigh of relief when the election is over. Provided there is a clear election result and no change in the divided Congress, then traders and investors will see it as 'business as usual'," said Craig James, chief economist at CommSec.

Other key events this week include the Chinese congress starting November8 that will usher in a generational leadership change and policy decisions by the Reserve Bank of Australia and the European Central Bank.

The dollar was also bolstered by a report showing U.S. employers added 171,000 people to their payrolls last month, far above forecasts, and 84,000 more jobs were created in August and September than previously estimated.

Demand for U.S. factory goods also rose in September by the most in over a year, but a gauge of business investment plans showed lacklustre momentum.

The dollar steadied at 80.50 yen, near a more-than-six-month high of 80.68 yen scaled on Friday.

Bullion was undermined by the strong dollar. Spot gold ticked up 0.3 percent to $1,680.54 an ounce on Monday after a 2 percent plunge to a two-month low of $1,673.94 on Friday.

"For now, the liquidation in gold is likely to leave investors licking gaping wounds rather than focus on the benefits of a gently growing economy especially as it is currently set back in the shadows of the fiscal cliff," Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co said in a note to clients.

Hedge funds and other big speculators shed U.S. commodities by $8 billion last week, the biggest weekly drop in nearly six month, with gold seeing the largest outflow of net long money for a second week running.

U.S. crude futures eased 0.1 percent to $84.82 a barrel and Brent was down 0.2 percent to $105.48.

The euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.2823. It hit a one-month low of $1.2816 early in Asia on Monday, undermined by not only the U.S. data but also Friday's survey showing euro zone October manufacturing shrank for the 15th straight month as output and new orders fell.

Finance chiefs of leading economies gathering in Mexico urged the United States on Sunday to avert a series of spending cuts and tax hikes that could hurt global output, though some countries saw Europe's debt crisis as the No. 1 danger.

China offered some comforting news on Saturday, with an official survey showing the country's services sector rebounded in October from a two-year low in September on stronger activity in the construction and retail sectors.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul and Ian Chua in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry)