* Nikkei slumps in early trade despite upbeat retail sales
* Major currencies stick to ranges; Ukraine crisis supports
By Lisa Twaronite
TOKYO, April 28 Asian shares began the week
under a cloud on Monday, after a dismal week on Wall Street and
against the backdrop of increasing tension in Ukraine.
Pro-Russian rebels paraded European monitors they are
holding in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, freeing one but saying
they had no plans to release another seven as the United States
and Europe prepared new sanctions against Moscow.
The leader of detained monitors said on Sunday that all in
group were in good health, but they were anxious to be allowed
to go home soon.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
was down 0.1 percent in early trade.
Japan's Nikkei stock average opened down 0.9
percent, despite data released before the market opened showing
retail sales rose in March at their fastest pace in 17 years
ahead of a sales tax hike.
Caution ahead of central bank meetings this week, as well as
key U.S. jobs data on Friday, also kept investors wary.
Federal Reserve policymakers will meet on Tuesday and
Wednesday and are expected to unanimously decide to continue
tapering the central bank's massive bond-buying stimulus for
now. Policymakers were expected to hotly debate future actions,
such as what economic conditions would set the stage for a rate
"With the steady improvement in U.S. labor data, there
exists a very small tail risk of a more hawkish lean,"
strategists at Citi wrote in a note to clients.
The Bank of Japan will release new economic projections
following its meeting on Wednesday.
The BOJ will likely keep its inflation forecast for fiscal
2015 roughly unchanged from the current 1.9 percent, and is also
set to estimate fiscal 2016 inflation close to 2 percent,
signalling that it is optimistic of achieving sustained price
rises over a longer time frame, sources have told Reuters.
Tokyo markets will be closed for a holiday on Tuesday.
On Wall Street on Friday, the three main U.S. stock indexes
all fell for both the session and the week, as disappointing
earnings from Amazon and Ford on Thursday and the rising Ukraine
tensions sapped sentiment.
Investors in Asia will also keep a close eye on China's
yuan, after it hit a 16-month low for the third straight day on
Major currency pairs remained locked in recent ranges, with
the heightened Ukraine crisis bolstering the safe-haven yen.
The dollar inched down 0.1 percent to 102.11 yen,
while the euro was slightly lower at bought 141.30 yen
The dollar index was steady at 79.731, after edging
down 0.1 percent last week. The euro was also treading water at
$1.3839 after it added 0.2 percent last week.
(Editing by Shri Navaratanam)