* Ex-Japan Asia MSCI index down 0.4 percent after strong
gain in the past week
* Concerns on emerging market, Fed uncertainty waning
* Investors look for more proof of solid U.S. growth
* European shares seen falling up to 0.3 pct
By Hideyuki Sano
TOKYO, Feb 13 Asian shares stepped back from
three-week highs on Thursday, snapping a five-session winning
streak that was underpinned by
receding concerns about global growth prospects and reassurance
over U.S. monetary policy.
There was also an element of caution, with some investors
restraining bullish instincts until they see more solid evidence
of a strengthening global economy.
European shares are seen slipping, with both Germany's DAX
and Britain's FTSE expected to fall as much as
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
fell 0.7 percent after having gained 4.5 percent
in the previous five sessions. Japan's Nikkei fell 1.8
percent after a 4.6 percent rise in the past three days.
Markets are still sitting on solid gains that stem from
relief over the continuity in Federal Reserve policy and
pressure coming off emerging markets.
Janet Yellen, made it clear on Tuesday, in her first public
remarks since becoming Fed chair, that she would not make any
abrupt changes to monetary policy.
Adding to the positive mood, Congress approved legislation
on Wednesday to increase the U.S. government's debt limit for a
year, avoiding chances of a repeat of the political showdown
that led to government shutdown in October.
Yet recent U.S. data, including two straight months of weak
jobs growth, have raised questions over whether the world's
biggest economy can sustain the strength it showed in the second
half of last year.
"There are emerging doubts about whether you can just blame
all the soft data on the weather," said Norihiro Fujito, a
senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley
"Investors are a bit bewildered. While they are relieved
that major events are out of the way, they are still hesitating
to chase shares higher," he added.
Doubts could intensify if further data falls short of market
expectations, although traders admit there is a chance the
market could write off any soft reading as a one-off aberration
due to the severity of the winter in the United States.
Next up on the data front are January retail sales and
weekly jobless claims data, both due to be released at 1330 GMT.
On Wall Street, shares were almost flat on
Wednesday after a four-day rally as investors pondered whether
valuations had become stretched.
There were still some doubts over the quality of data
released earlier in the week that showed import growth in China
at a six-month high, with some analysts wary that the figures
could be inflated by fake trade transactions to circumvent
In the currency market, the British pound stood out after a
surprisingly upbeat economic outlook from the Bank of England
prompted markets to price in an interest rate hike in early
The sterling edged up to $1.6618, getting near its 2
1/2-year high of $1.6667 hit late last month.
In contrast, the euro slipped to $1.3614, pulling
further away from highs of $1.3684 hit on Tuesday after dovish
comments from a top European Central Bank official.
Executive Board member Benoit Coeure described chances that
the ECB would cut into negative territory the rate paid to banks
to hold their deposits overnight as "a very possible option".
"Coeure's comments cannot be lightly dismissed and stoke
expectations for action at the March meeting," said Sean Callow,
currency strategist at Westpac in Sydney.
The Australian dollar tumbled around one percent across the
board after data showed the Australian jobless rate at its
highest in a decade, reviving speculation that interest rates
may be cut again in coming months.
The Aussie traded at $0.8934, slipping from
four-week high of $0.9068 marked on Wednesday.
As risk assets took a back seat, oil prices fell with U.S.
crude futures dropping 1.6 percent from four-month highs
hit on Wednesday. Gold prices also eased to $1,288, after
racing to a three-month high of $1,295.91 the previous day.