* Minutes of Fed meeting show intention to stay the course
on stimulus withdrawal
* Investors await China "flash" PMI for Feb after downside
surprise in Jan
* Dollar index edges away from 2014 low
By Lisa Twaronite
TOKYO, Feb 20 Asian stocks languished in early
trade on Thursday and the dollar firmed, after minutes of the
Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting showed it remained on
track to taper its stimulus despite a recent spate of downbeat
U.S. economic data.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
edged 0.1 percent lower, though Australia's main
index pushed 0.3 percent higher.
Investors were waiting on the preliminary China Purchasing
Managers' Index (PMI) from HSBC/Markit for February later in the
session. The January report surprised on the downside, and
another decidedly weak reading could reignite concerns about the
health of the world's second-largest economy.
Despite seasonal volatility in the first months of the year
and the relatively small scope of this survey compared to
China's official PMI, "there will be plenty of market tension
today," said Sean Callow, currency strategist at Westpac in
"The details of the January survey incline us to expect a
weak reading in February but not to place too much weight on
it," Callow said in a note to clients.
On Wall Street on Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial
average, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index and the
Nasdaq Composite Index all skidded, following release of
the Fed minutes.
The minutes showed members on the Fed's policy setting
committee emphasized their commitment to trimming the central
bank's asset-purchase program in predictable $10-billion steps.
The Fed stance to maintain its the pace of stimulus-tapering
comes despite a recent run of weak U.S. data, possibly
reflecting confidence among policymakers about the growth
trajectory. Analysts have noted that bad weather was a big
factor in the soft U.S data.
The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes
stood at 2.737 percent, compared with Wednesday's U.S. close of
Against the yen, the greenback inched up on the day to
102.32 yen, not far from a two-week high of 102.73 yen
hit on Tuesday.
The dollar index firmed to 80.202, stepping away its
Wednesday low of 79.927, which was its weakest since late
The euro was holding steady at $1.3733, not far from
the previous session's high of $1.3773, which was its peak since
In commodities markets, U.S. crude rose about 0.2
percent to $103.47 a barrel, after touching a four-month high on
Wednesday after forecasts for more cold weather next week.