Fretting over the Fed; yen takes a dive

SYDNEY Thu Dec 12, 2013 6:08pm EST

1 of 5. Pedestrians are reflected in an electronic board showing stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo December 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Yuya Shino

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets are likely to stay under pressure on Friday as investors fret over the outlook for U.S. policy stimulus, though Japanese stocks could draw comfort from a reversal in the yen against the dollar.

An upbeat reading on U.S. retail sales heightened speculation the Federal Reserve might start trimming its asset buying as early as next week, and saw analysts boost forecasts for economic growth this quarter. <TOP/CEN>

"I suspect strong data will be a minor negative for risk appetite, as Fed taper concerns prevail over the obvious growth positives," said Alan Ruskin, global head of FX strategy at Deutsche Bank in New York.

Which was why Wall Street reacted by shoving the Dow down .DJI 0.66 percent and the S&P 500 .SPX down 0.38 percent. At the same time, yields on 10-year Treasury debt popped back up to 2.88 percent and gave the U.S. dollar a lift.

"From a U.S. dollar perspective this is at best only a mild positive, best played through yen and the usual emerging market suspects," added Ruskin. "The muted market reactions suggest nobody would be terribly surprised with a December taper, even if the street has yet to reach a consensus on timing."

The Fed meets on Tuesday and Wednesday and, while much of the market still thinks it will wait until January or March, the decision on tapering is likely to be a very close call.

The rise in bond yields helped the dollar recoup all the losses suffered early in the week to touch a seven-month peak at 103.43. Dealers said there were massive stop-loss orders to buy dollars for yen around 103.50, and a break there could unleash a sharp move higher.

The euro also gained on the yen to reach a five-year top at 142.25 yen. The single currency took a breather against the dollar, easing a touch to $1.3751.

Any drop in the yen tends to be viewed as a positive for Japanese exports and corporate profits, and thus for the stock market. Nikkei futures bounced to a premium over the cash market, offering a chance the Nikkei .N225 could stabilize after three straight sessions of losses.

However, other share markets in Asia are likely to take their lead from Wall Street and remain on the defensive. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS lost 1.1 percent on Thursday.

Some currencies in the region have also been losing ground amid concerns an eventual tapering by the Fed will draw capital away from their markets.

Indonesia's rupiah hit a near five-year low of 12,040 per dollar, while the Malaysian ringgit and the Indian rupee also lost ground.

Another casualty was the Australian dollar, which sank a U.S. cent to $0.8930 after the head of the country's central bank reiterated his desire for a lower currency.

Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Glenn Stevens confirmed that he would rather see any further easing in domestic financial conditions come through a drop in the Aussie, rather than a cut in interest rates.

The central bank has for months been running a verbal campaign to get the currency down to support trade-exposed sectors of the economy.

In commodity markets, the higher U.S. dollar weighed on gold. It skidded to $1,202.10 an ounce, away from the week's top at $1,267.26 and the lowest since the end of June.

Brent oil futures fell below $109 a barrel on the possible reopening of major Libyan ports this weekend and expectations that the Fed may soon start unwinding its stimulus.

Brent crude oil fell $1.11 to $108.59 a barrel. In contrast, U.S. crude futures for January delivery were up 6 cents at $97.50 a barrel.

(Editing by John Mair)

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