Asian shares languish at 2-week low, dollar near four-week high

TOKYO Sun Jan 5, 2014 6:48pm EST

1 of 6. A man walks against strong wind and rain in front of a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo October 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares dipped on Monday, while the dollar hovered near a four-week high, maintaining gains even after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. central bank is committed to an accommodative policy.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS eased 0.1 percent, adding to a 1.1 percent drop to a two-week low on Friday. The index lost 1.7 percent last year, sharply underperforming U.S., Japanese and European stocks.

Thai stocks .SETI may come under further pressure after they hit a 16-month low on Friday on heightened political uncertainties ahead of next month's general election, while the baht slumped to a near four-year low of 33.03 per dollar set late last week.

In Tokyo, Nikkei futures dropped 1.5 percent, indicating a weak opening for Japanese stocks in the first trading day of 2014. The benchmark jumped 57 percent last year to mark its best annual rise since 1972 on the back of massive fiscal and monetary stimulus.

The dollar was steady at 104.85 yen. On Friday, it rebounded from a near two-week low of 104.08 yen despite the remarks by Bernanke. He said the U.S. central bank is no less committed to highly accommodative policy now that it has trimmed its bond-buying program by $10 billion to $75 billion a month, in what could be his last speech as Fed chairman.

Against a basket of major currencies, the dollar .DXY added 0.1 percent to near a four-week high set on Friday.

Bernanke, who steps down as head of the Fed at month's end, gave an upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy in coming quarters, but he tempered the good news in housing, finance and fiscal policies by repeating that the overall recovery "clearly remains incomplete".

U.S. stocks ended last week slightly weaker, with the Standard & Poor's 500 .SPX down 0.5 percent for the week after it jumped 30 percent in 2013. .N

Friday's nonfarm payrolls data will give further clues as to how well the U.S. economy is recovering and how fast the Fed will unwind its stimulus campaign, which has been a major driver for global assets in the past few years.

"With the Fed having set the tapering process in motion, it would likely take a fairly significant miss to derail tapering expectations and push yields significantly lower from their year-end levels," analysts at BNP Paribas wrote in a note.

"Against this backdrop, the dollar is likely to remain generally well-supported this week, particularly versus the lower-yielding G10 currencies," they added.

The euro was little changed at $1.3591, taking a pause after dropping 0.6 percent in the previous session.

Among commodities, gold inched up 0.1 percent to about $1,237.7 an ounce, hovering near a three-week high and heading for a fifth-day of gains. The precious metal suffered a 28 percent slump in 2013, its worst yearly performance since 1981, largely due to the Fed's plan to unwind its stimulus program.

U.S. crude futures gained 0.2 percent to above $94 a barrel, coming off a four-week low set on Friday after data showed a larger-than-expected build in distillates.

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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