Asian shares drift lower, India surprises with rate cut

By Lisa Twaronite

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares fell on Wednesday as investors grew cautious before upcoming central bank meetings and U.S. jobs data, while India’s central bank surprised with its second inter-meeting rate cut this year.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was down about 0.3 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei stock average <.N225> ended down 0.6 percent as investors locked in gains from its recent rise to 15-year highs.

Financial spreadbetters expected a brighter open for Europe, with Britain’s FTSE 100 <.FTSE> seen opening up 0.2 percent, Germany’s DAX <.GDAXI> 0.2 percent higher, and France’s CAC 40 <.FCHI> up 0.3 percent.

Investors remained cautious ahead of U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for February, which could provide clues about the timing of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike.

“Whether this selling is short-term profit-taking or can lead to a solid correction depends on how the market perceives the U.S. jobs data,” said Isao Kubo, equity strategist at Nissay Asset Management in Tokyo. “If wages are better than expected and trigger worries about a sooner-than-later rate hike, there may be some more selling in stocks.”

Economists polled by Reuters expect an increase of 240,000 new jobs in February, falling short of the 257,000 seen in January. Ahead of the jobs data, investors will focus on U.S. ISM services report to be released later on Wednesday.

On Wall Street overnight, U.S. stock indexes retreated from record highs hit earlier in the week.

Chinese shares rose after steep losses in the previous session, with the Shanghai Composite <.SSEC> up 0.1 percent and the CSI300 index <.CSI300> up 0.3 percent. The HSBC/Markit Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) picked up to 52.0 last month from January’s 51.8, showing that activity in China’s services sector grew modestly as new orders rose at their quickest pace in three months.

In a surprise move, India’s central bank cut its policy repo rate <INREPO=ECI> by 25 basis points to 7.5 percent on Wednesday, its second cut this year outside of its official policy meetings and comes on the back of easing inflation and a government commitment to fiscal discipline.

Indian bonds and rupee rose sharply after the cut. The BSE index <.BSESN> was up 0.5 percent after earlier topping the 30,000 level for the first time, with some economists saying more easing could lie ahead.

“I feel another 25 bps is possible, maybe in the April policy but after that there will be a pause,” said Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist at L&T Financial Services.


The euro inched slightly down against the dollar to $ 1.1171 <EUR=>, a day ahead of a European Central Bank meeting, at which policymakers are expected to announce additional details about the bank’s 1.1 trillion euro ($ 1.23 trillion) bond-buying quantitative easing program. Some believe the forex impact is likely to be limited.

“We don’t see a large chance of a negative EUR move as the total amount of QE is already known, and unlikely to be altered. A positive EUR impact is also unlikely to be sustained,” Richard Cochinos, a strategist at CitiFX, wrote in a note to clients.

The ECB will also release new economic forecasts. Chief Economist Peter Praet said last week that it was likely to revise upward its expectations for growth in the euro zone, against a backdrop of low oil prices and a weak euro.

The dollar fell about 0.1 percent against the yen on the day to 119.67 <JPY=>, moving away from a three-week high of 120.27 yen touched in the previous session.

The dollar index inched up about 0.1 percent to 95.454 <.DXY>, within sight of Tuesday’s high of 95.570, which was its strongest level since September 2003.

Later on Wednesday the Bank of Canada will announce its latest policy decision. It surprised markets by cutting interest rates by 25 basis points to 0.75 percent at its last meeting in January, but is expected to hold steady this time, with another cut seen more likely in the second quarter.

The greenback was steady on the day against the Canadian dollar at C$ 1.2499, after falling as low as C$ 1.2435 on Tuesday after data showed that the Canadian economy grew by a faster-than-expected annualized rate of 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

Oil was lower in a volatile session in which a rise in Saudi crude prices and air strikes on oil facilities in Libya faced off against global oversupply concerns. U.S. crude <CLc1> fell about 0.1 percent on the day to $ 50.49, while Brent crude <LCOc1> skidded about 0.7 percent to $ 60.57.

($ 1 = 0.8947 euros)

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo and Rafael Nam in Mumbai; Editing by Eric Meijer & Shri Navaratnam)

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