GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares, dollar struggle on Ukraine anxiety

Fri Apr 25, 2014 2:48am EDT

* Spreadbetters predict downbeat opening for Europe

* Nikkei edges up but posts modest weekly loss

* Dollar index slips even as yen drifts off session highs

By Lisa Twaronite

TOKYO, April 25 (Reuters) - Asian stocks stumbled on Friday and the dollar languished against a basket of currencies, as fears of an escalating Ukraine crisis eclipsed upbeat U.S. economic data and robust U.S. tech shares.

Financial spreadbetters predict downbeat openings in the European session, expecting Britain's FTSE 100 to be off 0.2 percent, and Germany's DAX and France's CAC 40 down 0.3 percent each.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that time was running out for Moscow to change its course in Ukraine. President Barack Obama was expected to speak to European leaders on Friday to try to nudge the European Union towards fresh sanctions against Russia, sources familiar with the matter said.

Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Russia separatists on Thursday and Russia conducted army drills near the border, raising fears its troops would invade.

"The escalation of tension in Ukraine is likely to keep markets risk-off," said Kyosuke Suzuki, director of forex at Societe Generale in Tokyo.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan erased early modest gains and fell 0.8 percent, on track for a 1 percent weekly loss but still up nearly 3 percent for the year.

A gloomy day for Chinese equities darkened the mood further.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index shed 1.2 percent and touched a four-week low on concerns about the state of China's economy and the health of the banking sector. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.8 percent.

"People aren't very keen on any of the Chinese banks at the moment, because the banks reflect the overall concerns about the economy," said Larry Jiang, chief strategist at Guotai Junan International in Hong Kong.

China's yuan hit a 16-month low for the third straight day on Friday on strong corporate dollar demand, shrugging off a stronger fixing by the country's central bank.

Japan's Nikkei stock average wavered in and out of positive territory in extremely choppy trade before ending up 0.2 percent, after opening solidly lower amid disappointment over a failed attempt to reach a U.S.-Japan trade pact. The Nikkei lost 0.6 percent on the week, and it has tumbled 11.4 percent so far in 2014.

The two countries made progress in trade talks at a bilateral summit in Tokyo but did not reach the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal that they were hoping to seal, Economy Minister Akira Amari said on Friday.

Data released early in the session showed core consumer prices in Tokyo, a leading indicator of nationwide inflation, rose 2.7 percent in April from a year earlier, a hair shy of forecasts. It was the fastest gain since 1992 as a national sales tax increase drove up prices, though adjusted for the tax hike, the rise was just 1 percent.

On Wall Street overnight, stocks managed to shrug off the rising Ukraine tensions after tech bellwethers Facebook and Apple posted upbeat results on Wednesday and U.S. economic data suggested that growth picked up pace in the second quarter.

U.S. durable goods orders rose more than expected in March and a measure of business capital spending plans surged.

While brighter U.S. stocks and upbeat data supported the greenback, it still fell against a basket of major currencies, with the dollar index edging down to 79.772.

But the U.S. unit took back some lost ground against the yen, steadying at 102.34 yen, above a session low of 102.19 yen. The euro edged up against its Japanese counterpart to 141.54 yen.

Against the dollar, the euro was steady on the day at $1.3829, despite comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi repeating recent concerns about euro strength and the ECB's willingness to launch a "broad-based asset purchase programme" if low inflation become entrenched.

In the commodities front, spot gold XAU= was down about 0.1 percent at $1,292.30 an ounce after touching its lowest levels since February on Thursday, though fears about the Ukraine crisis provided some support.

Copper touched a session high of $6,775 a tonne, as demand from China helped lift it to its strongest since March 7, and was last up about 0.2 percent at $6,763.

Brent crude was down slightly at $110.32 a barrel, but was holding close to seven-week highs after surging $1.22 a barrel on Thursday, amid the Ukraine unrest. (Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo and Natalie Thomas in Hong Kong; Editing by Kim Coghill & Shri Navaratnam)

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