GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares soft, China slowdown fears resurface

Mon May 19, 2014 2:26am EDT

* Investors looks for more clarity on ECB, Fed policy

* Fall in China steel prices, tighter lending rekindle slowdown fears

* European bourses seen posting small gains

* Asia ex-Japan MSCI down 0.3 pct, Nikkei hits 1-month low

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO, May 19 (Reuters) - Asian share prices eased on Monday while European shares were called slightly higher as investors waited to see if the world's major central banks will continue to keep monetary policy easy and in some cases loosen further.

Concerns about slower growth in China undermined some markets in Asia, with mainland Chinese shares falling more than 1 percent to two-month lows on news that Beijing is tightening its grip on interbank lending to defuse risks in the shadow banking system.

Spreadbetters see European shares eking out small gains, with France's CAC seen leading the gains with 0.2 percent rise and Germany's DAX expected to be gaining less than 0.1 percent.

Japan's Nikkei average succumbed to the regional weakness after initial gains, hitting one-month lows.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked down 0.3 percent, led by Australian shares falling 1.2 percent.

Indian shares extended their gains following an election victory last week by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies, seen as more business-friendly than the outgoing Congress party.

"I think (the market) will remain choppy until we get some clear indications or more comfort around some of these high multiples. The key thing for a lot of investors here are these prices are a bit rich - is it being justified by earnings?" said John Milroy, investment adviser at Macquarie Bank.

Given some of the uncertainty about the global economic outlook, monetary support was a key theme for investors, with the European Central Bank taking centre stage.

Five senior sources have told Reuters that the European Central Bank is preparing a package of policy options for its early June meeting, including cuts in all its interest rates and targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small- and mid-sized firms.

A few ECB policymakers will speak publicly later in the day, including Governing Council member Jens Weidmann, Executive Board member Yves Mersch.

Expectations of ECB action depressed bond yields not only in Europe but also in the United States last week.

Strong U.S. housing data released on Friday helped U.S. Treasuries yield bounce back from six-month lows, with the 10-year yield now at 2.517 percent, versus a six-month low of 2.473 percent.

Another focus, given a light data calendar in the next couple of days, is on the minutes of the Fed's policy meeting due on Wednesday, in which analysts expect to find a discussion on the Fed's exit strategy from super-easy policy.

"The positive U.S. housing data was reassuring. But a lot of investors are likely to take a wait-and-see stance given the lack of a strong catalyst for buying," said Tsuyoshi Shimizu, chief strategist at Mizuho Asset Management.

In the currency market, the euro remained under pressure on expectation of stimulus by the ECB following soft euro zone growth data published last week.

The euro traded little changed at $1.3705, not far from 2 1/2-mont low of $1.3648 touched on Thursday.

Against the yen, it changed hands at 139.18 yen, near three-month low of 138.77 yen hit on Friday.

The yen also had the upper hand on the dollar, after U.S. bond yields plunged last week, undermining yield attraction of the dollar.

The dollar traded at 101.40 yen, near the low end of its narrow trading band between 101.20 and 104.13 in the past three months.

Brent crude oil rose 0.3 percent to $110.12 per barrel, while NYMEX light crude advanced 0.2 percent to $102.26.

Copper, a commodity sensitive to Chinese demand, hit a 11-week high, somewhat softening the blow from a fall in iron ore prices due to a weaker Chinese steel market.

(Additional reporting by Thuy Ong in Sydney; Editing by Shri Navaratnam & Kim Coghill)

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