GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares ease, sterling remains vulnerable

Wed Mar 13, 2013 2:03am EDT

* MSCI Asia ex-Japan slips, Nikkei falls as yen weakness pauses

* Sterling under pressure, euro steadies

* U.S. crude, Shanghai copper cling to gains, gold struggles

* European shares likely decline

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO, March 13 (Reuters) - Asian shares fell on Wednesday on investor concerns that the recent rally in global equities was running out of steam, while sterling remained vulnerable after weak UK data fed fears of a triple-dip recession.

Sentiment toward riskier assets was not completely soured, however, with U.S. crude futures and Shanghai copper clinging on to gains and gold little changed.

"Asian markets have given up further ground today as a lack of positive drivers to keep the risk rally going has encouraged investors to lock in recent gains. Price action in equities seems to have plateaued after weeks of a relentless rally," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets.

The bearish tone was expected to spill over to European markets, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100, Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX to open down as much as 0.5 percent.

U.S. stock futures were down 0.1 percent, also pointing to a soft Wall Street open, after the Dow Jones Industrial Average marked another record close on Tuesday, its eighth straight day of rises and pushing it higher into overbought territory.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5 percent. South Korean shares bucked the regional downtrend, edging up 0.2 percent.

"We are still in the scare framework, people are still scared of risk," said Adrian Foster, head of financial markets research for Asia-Pacific at Rabobank International in Hong Kong.

This was despite the generous global liquidity still in place even when the risks that prompted central banks into accommodative stances have subsided, Foster said, with Europe stabilising and the United States skirting around its budget problems, improving growth prospects and supporting asset prices generally.

Michael Gavin, head of asset allocation at Barclays Capital in New York, suggests the return of the VIX volatility index to levels seen before the global financial crisis may indicate a "new normal" extended period of low volatility, buttressed by activist central banks ready to restore calm when they can.

"Of course, this whole context could change if some risk materialises that cannot be contained by activist central banks. But the main risks that have preoccupied investors in the past several years seem unlikely to return to such menacing proportions," Gavin said in a research.

China shares headed for a fifth-straight loss on Wednesday, hurting Hong Kong stocks, with the mainland financial and property sectors hit by fears of tighter regulations to curb speculative betting on property.

But analysts say China would be careful not to entirely kill the property boom.

"Property regulation is a near-term concern, but the government is trying to avoid a too extreme situation of an overheating or a collapse of the property sector. The government is adjusting to contain it in a certain range," Yiping Huang, chief economist for Asia at Barclays Capital in Hong Kong.

STERLING UNDER PRESSURE

As the yen's weakness paused, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.5 percent, after snapping an 8-day winning streak which took the index up to a 4-1/2-year high on Tuesday.

Japan's approaching fiscal year-end on March 31 was also prompting investors to sell to adjust their positions.

The dollar slipped 0.4 percent to 95.67 yen, off Tuesday's high of 96.71 yen, its peak since August 2009.

The euro fell 0.3 percent to 124.74 yen, after reaching a one-month high of 126.03 on Tuesday. Expectations for much bolder monetary easing from the Bank of Japan when a new leadership takes over next week have pressured the yen.

Sterling traded up 0.2 percent to $1.4938, after falling to its lowest since late June 2010 on Tuesday after data showed a surprise fall in British industrial output in January, pushing the pound down to $1.4832.

Against the Australian dollar, the pound skidded towards A$1.4370 on Tuesday, lows not seen since 1985, but was up at A$1.4489 on Wednesday.

"Sterling's weakness on the foreign exchanges remains intact as an absence of fresh initiatives from the Bank of England, and the lack of room to ease fiscal policy, leave much onus on a weaker pound to help stimulate growth," ANZ said in a note.

The euro was steady around $1.3041, with investors watching bond sales from highly-indebted euro zone countries to gauge the degree of anxiety. Italy will offer three-year and 15-year bonds on Wednesday, while Spain plans to sell bonds due 2029, 2040 and 2041 at a special, off-calendar auction on Thursday.

Crude oil rose 0.2 percent to $92.71 a barrel but Brent fell 0.2 percent to $109.42.

London copper steadied around $7,832.75 a tonne while Shanghai copper rose to a 1-1/2-week high 57,160 yuan ($9,200) a tonne.

Spot gold was nearly unchanged at $1,591.46 an ounce.

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