GLOBAL MARKETS-Shares pause after U.S. jobs, monetary policy in focus

Mon Mar 12, 2012 2:11am EDT

* MSCI Asia ex-Japan down 0.8 pct, Nikkei slips from 7-mth high

* Euro eases, dollar index steady

* Oil, copper drop on China demand worries

* European shares to open flat to tad lower

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO, March 12 (Reuters) - Asian shares fell on Monday as investors paused to assess the effect of strong U.S. jobs data, which scaled back expectations of more easing ahead of this week's Federal Reserve meeting, while uncertainty over Chinese growth also weighed on sentiment.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index eased 0.8 percent after rising as much as 1.3 percent on Friday. The index has risen about 12 percent this year.

Indian stocks bucked the trend and rose 0.6 percent, after India on Friday cut the cash reserve ratio requirement for banks sooner and more sharply than expected, raising the odds for an interest rate cut this week.

Japan's Nikkei average erased earlier gains and fell 0.2 percent, retreating from a fresh seven-month high reached earlier. The Nikkei is up about 18 percent this year.

The dollar hovered around three-week highs against a basket of major currencies. It held close to Friday's near 11-month high of 82.64 yen. The euro eased 0.2 percent to $1.3090 , after hitting its lowest in about a month of $1.3085 earlier.

"The markets were due for a correction after rising too strongly so far, bringing prices to levels which wouldn't be sustainable," said Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory Co.

Greece averted the immediate threat of an uncontrolled default when a sufficient number of private creditors agreed on a bond swap deal on Friday that will cut the country's public debt and clear the way for a new bailout.

Concerns about Europe's debt crisis will not fade away with the completion of the Greece debt swap deal, but the focus was shifting to global growth and monetary policy, analysts said.

Financial spreadbetters expected major European markets

to open flat to 0.1 percent lower.

CHINA UNCERTAINTY

Data on Friday showing solid growth in U.S. employment suggested the world's largest economy was strengthening and in less need of further monetary stimulus from the Fed, which holds its policy meeting on Tuesday.

Economic conditions elsewhere were less rosy or clear-cut.

China's trade balance data over the weekend showed the largest deficit in at least a decade, following recent reports that inflation cooled in February while retail sales and industrial output fell below forecast.

"Aside from healthy demand for industrial metals, assessment of recent Chinese data is mixed, and more figures are needed to clarify the uncertainty," Niimura said.

Brent crude, which has risen 17 percent this year, eased 0.5 percent to $125.35 a barrel while U.S. crude shed 0.6 percent to $106.75, as traders took profit after last week's gains and China's trade deficit fanned concerns slowing exports from the world's second largest economy will hurt fuel demand.

Copper, up 11 percent this year, fell 0.6 percent to $8,450 a tonne.

"The market lacks fundamentals that can support a strong rally," said Fang Junfeng, an analyst at Shanghai CIFCO Futures.

In a wide-ranging statement highlighting its goals for 2012, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) promised to reduce state control over China's interest rates and currency markets to allow market forces to have a bigger play.

It also said Beijing has ample room to further cut the reserve requirement ratio for banks, adding that any decision would be based on market liquidity conditions and foreign exchange inflows.

The trade data "means bigger need to stimulate domestic demand - via fiscal stimulus and monetary easing. So we expect 200 bps more in RRR cuts and 50 bps in interest rate cuts later this year," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist and strategist for Asia ex-Japan at Credit Agricole CIB, in a note. Following Monday's PBOC comments, "We expect the PBOC to loosen liquidity in line with slower growth and inflation," he said.

GREECE RELIEF SHORTLIVED

Friday's Greek debt deal brought some relief to riskier assets, but poor euro zone growth prospects and fears Portugal may also impose losses on creditors were likely to limit the fall in yields on weaker sovereign bonds.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the arbiter of rules governing the sale and use of credit default swaps, said on Friday Greece triggered the payment on CDS, but did not see a big market impact.

A maximum of $3.16 billion of net outstanding Greek CDS contracts could be paid out, while about 93 percent of CDS contracts are collateralised. ISDA said an auction will be held to determine the actual payout amounts on March 19.

Sentiment in Asian credit markets improved slightly, narrowing the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index by about 1 basis point.

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