GLOBAL MARKETS-Equities sag on disappointing China trade data, Ukraine crisis

Sun Mar 9, 2014 7:44pm EDT

* Asian equities sag early after weak China data released on weekend

* Ukrainian uncertainty add to geopolitical concerns

* Dollar gives back some of its gains made after strong jobs data

By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO, March 10 (Reuters) - Asian stocks slipped in early trade on Monday and the dollar stepped back from its recent highs as disappointing Chinese trade data and uncertainty over the crisis in Ukraine kept risk appetite in check.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.2 percent, and Australian shares shed 0.5 percent.

U.S. stock futures fell 0.2 percent from their record closing high on Friday.

The euro remained near recent highs, with bulls still heartened by the European Central Bank's reluctance last week to take further policy action.

Investors greeted the new week in Asia on a cautious note after data released on Saturday showed China's exports unexpectedly tumbled in February, swinging the trade balance into deficit and adding to fears of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

The soft Chinese data put a damper on risk sentiment, which had been temporarily boosted by stronger than expected U.S. nonfarm payrolls released on Friday showing employers had added 175,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, up from 129,000 new positions in January.

"While non-farm payrolls surprised significantly to the upside on Friday, disappointing China data, escalating Russia/Ukraine concerns and the missing Malaysian aircraft have all contributed to a sombre mood," IG market strategist Stan Shamu wrote in a note to clients.

Russian forces tightened their grip on Crimea by seizing another border post and a military airfield, fanning tensions ahead of a planned Moscow-backed referendum on Sunday on whether the Black Sea peninsula should join Russia.

Diplomatic efforts to cool the crisis in Ukraine calmed markets toward the end of last week, but rising tensions over Russia's intervention in Crimea have kept investors on edge.

Meanwhile, a Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 people on board vanished enroute to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of Saturday.

The U.S. dollar index, a composite of six currency pairs dipped 0.1 percent to 79.682 after touching a high of 79.847 on Friday after the U.S. jobs data.

Against the safe haven yen the dollar stood at 103.235, pulling away from a six-week high of 103.77 hit on Friday.

The euro traded at $1.3880, within striking distance of a 2-1/2 year peak of $1.3915 reached on Friday.

The Australian dollar, usually used as a liquid proxy for China plays, fell in the wake of the soft Chinese data. It dropped to $0.9060 from $0.9065 late on Friday.