Asia shares stumble over weak China trade

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares wobbled on Monday after dismal Chinese trade figures fuelled concern over a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy, while solid U.S. jobs data were a mixed blessing as they raised chances of a U.S. interest rates hike mid-year.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.6 percent while U.S. stock futures also shed 0.4 percent (ESc1). Japan’s Nikkei share average (.N225) bucked the trend and rose 0.4 percent on the back of a weaker yen.

Financial spreadbetters also saw a weaker opening for European shares, with Germany’s DAX (.GDAX) and France’s CAC 40 (.FCHI) both expected to fall up to 0.8 percent.

Data published on Sunday showed China’s trade performance slumped in January, with exports falling 3.3 percent from year-ago levels while imports tumbled 19.9 percent, far worse than analysts had expected. The data highlighted deepening weakness in the Chinese economy.

“The trade data is ugly, which points to a weaker economy ahead,” said Wang Mingli, strategist at Guoyuan Securities in Shanghai. “Even if there are fresh stimulus measures, they’re aimed at aiding the economy, not the market.”

The Australian dollar, often used as a proxy for bets on the Chinese economy because of the country’s trade links to China, fell 0.4 percent in early trade to $ 0.7775 (AUD=D4).

The poor China trade figures took some of the shine off robust U.S. payroll gains of 257,000 in January.

Hourly wages also rebounded, increasing 12 cents last month for a 2.2 percent increase from a year earlier, the largest such gain since August.

The data was strong enough that traders brought forward their expectation of the Fed’s rate hike, with money market futures fully pricing in a rate increase by September, compared to around October before the data.

The prospect of an earlier U.S. rate hike is weighing on many assets that have benefited from low interest rates in the United States while boosting U.S. bond yields and underpinning the dollar.

The U.S. dollar’s index against a basket of six major currencies held ontod most of its 1.1 percent gain on Friday and stood at 94.519 (.DXY) (=USD), not far from an 11-year high of 95.481 hit last month.

The euro remained vulnerable as new Greek leader Alexis Tsipras rejected the bailout, setting himself on a collision course with European partners.

In his first major speech to parliament since storming to power last month on Sunday, Tsipras listed a range of proposed reverses of reforms imposed by European and International Monetary Fund lenders.

The euro traded at $ 1.1335 (EUR=), up slightly in Asia but still not far from last week’s low of $ 1.1280.

The yen hit four-week lows of 119.23 to the dollar (JPY=) on Friday on the back of rising U.S. bond yields. It last stood at 118.82.

Oil prices steadied on Monday as falling U.S. oil rig counts and conflict in oil producer Libya were balanced by a slump in Chinese imports, pointing to lower fuel demand in the world’s biggest energy consumer.

Brent oil futures gained 0.3 percent to $ 57.99 per barrel (LCOc1), clinging on near a six-week high of $ 59.06 touched on Friday.

Gold rebounded slightly from a three-week low of $ 1,228.50 touched on Friday as share prices eased. It last stood at $ 1,237.54 per ounce (XAU=).

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Additional reporting by Samuel Shen and Kazunori Takada in Shanghai)

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