Asian shares subdued, Fed the usual suspect

SYDNEY: Asian share markets got off to a soggy start on Tuesday while currencies dithered in recent ranges as a dearth of major economic news left investors to chew on the outlook for monetary policy in the United states and Europe.

Taking its cue from a softer Wall Street, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.4 percent. Returning from holiday, Tokyo’s Nikkei dipped 0.3 percent in very light volumes.

Lacking an obvious culprit, dealers tended to blame uncertainty about when the Federal Reserve will start trimming its asset buying following last week’s shock decision to maintain the programme at $85 billion a month.

Moves were just as modest in currencies. The euro traded at $1.3491, having slipped 0.2 percent on Monday. Both the euro and the dollar lost ground to the yen, which firmed to 98.84 per dollar.

The net result was to leave the dollar little changed against a basket of currencies at 80.473, and still uncomfortably close to a seven-month trough hit last week.

Economic data were too mixed to offer much direction.

Markit’s preliminary, U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) unexpectedly retreated to 52.8 this month from 53.1 in August.

That contrasted with Markit’s Eurozone PMI which jumped to 52.1 in September, from last month’s 51.5, its highest since June 2011 and beating expectations for a reading of 51.9.

It also followed a firmer-than-expected reading on China’s manufacturing sector.

All of which had seen the Dow Jones industrial average end 0.32 percent lower on Monday, while the S&P 500 Index eased 0.47 percent.

The FTSEurofirst 300 lost 0.5 percent and MSCI’s index of world shares fell 0.3 percent.

Bonds fared better, with yields on 10-year Treasury debt falling around 4 basis points to 2.70 percent.

In truth dealers conceded there was not much rhyme or reason behind the latest market moves.

The euro apparently dropped because European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said euro zone interest rates will remain at current or lower levels for an extended period. Yet he has been saying the same thing for weeks with little obvious impact on the currency.

Wall Street’s wobble was blamed in part on a comment by New York Fed President William Dudley that the timeline for tapering was still in place.

But Treasuries rallied because Dudley also said he wanted to see a broader improvement in the labour market before signing off on tapering, emphasising the need for policy to “forcefully” push back against economic headwinds.

Dudley is a close ally of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and is assumed to speak for the dovish majority of voters on the Open Market Committee, which gives his words weight with investors.

One of the headwinds cited was U.S. fiscal policy amid a political showdown in Washington that could see the government shut down, or at the very extreme, default on its debt.

The wrangling looks set to roll on for some weeks, providing a distraction to policy makers and investors alike.

In commodities markets, gold steadied at $1,327.85 an ounce after failing to sustain its Fed-inspired rally to $1,374 last week. The story was much the same in copper futures which held at $7,233.75, from last week’s peak of $7,368.00.

Brent crude oil was down 15 cents at $108.01 a barrel, while U.S. crude eased 16 cents to $103.43. –REUTERS