Asian stocks subdued on Ukraine caution, dollar firms vs. yen

Reuters
Man looks at an electronic board displaying Japan's Nikkei average and various countries' stock indices outside a brokerage in Tokyo
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A man looks at an electronic board displaying Japan's Nikkei average (top C) and various countries' stock indices, as passers-by walk past outside a brokerage in Tokyo April 16, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian stock markets were subdued on Monday, as tensions in Ukraine kept investors cautious amid an absence of catalysts as several markets remained closed for the Easter holiday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched down 0.1 percent. Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.3 percent on the back of a weaker yen.

Share markets in London, Paris and Frankfurt are closed for the Easter holiday.

Tensions in Ukraine, signs of slowing growth in China and uncertainty over when the U.S. Federal Reserve would start to tighten interest rates have buffeted global markets in recent weeks, although Fed Chair Janet Yellen's dovish comments last week helped soothe some nerves.

Chinese shares slipped on concerns towards potential new listings diluting the market after the securities regulator released draft prospectuses for new companies planning to list.

"The way the market sees the IPO news is that new shares will end up diluting capital, and what's more, this news is rather sudden," said Tian Weidong, head of research in Kaiyuan Securities in the city of Xi'an.

The CSI300 index of the largest Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings was down 0.4 percent, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.3 percent.

The dollar edged up to a two-week high against the yen after data showed Japan posted its largest-ever trade deficit in the fiscal year through March 2014 due to a soaring energy import bill.

The greenback rose to 102.71 yen, its highest point since April 8, and remained well bid after upbeat U.S. factory data and jobless claims late last week.

Analysts said signs that the U.S. economy had shaken off disruptions caused by harsh winter weather would help the U.S. currency in the longer run.

"With momentum building behind the U.S. industrial cycle, tentative signs of wage-based pressure building, and further labor market improvements likely, falling U.S. rates are unlikely to continue to be a major driver of dollar weakness," strategists at Barclays said in a note to clients.

The encouraging U.S. data saw the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield spike on Friday to a 10-day peak of 2.726 percent, pulling back sharply from a six-week trough of 2.596 percent hit earlier last week.

UKRAINE TENSIONS

Support for the safe-haven Japanese currency also ebbed last week after the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union called for an immediate halt to violence.

However, tensions in Ukraine are expected to underpin the yen in the short term, traders said.

At least three people were killed in a gunfight in the early hours of Sunday near a Ukrainian city controlled by pro-Russian separatists, shaking an already fragile international accord that was designed to avert a wider conflict.

The euro was at $1.3818, little changed from last week. It hit a 2-1/2-year high near $1.40 in the middle of March, but has since gone on the defensive after a number of European Central Bank officials expressed concerns about the common currency's strength.

In the commodity markets, gold initially edged higher as the Ukraine tensions sparked some safe-haven buying but fell to a 2-1/2-week low, hurt by sharp outflows from the world's biggest bullion-backed exchange-traded fund (ETF) and a stronger dollar.

Spot gold fell to $1,281.40 an ounce, lowest since April 3, amid thin trading volumes as Hong Kong and London were closed on Monday for Easter.

Geopolitical risks stemming from the former Soviet republic supported oil. Brent crude traded at $109.10 per barrel, near a six-week peak of $110.36 hit last week.

($1 = 6.2190 Chinese Yuan)

(Additional reporting by Natalie Thomas in Beijing; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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