* Most markets in Asia, Europe shut for Labour Day, UK shares seen flat
* MSCI Asia ex-Japan down 0.1 pct, Nikkei falls 0.3 pct
* China official April PMI eases from March’s 11-month high
* Fed policy ends later on Wed, ECB meets Thursday
By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO, May 1 (Reuters) - The dollar eased on Wednesday as investors warily awaited the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policy meeting later in the day, while expectations for the European Central Bank to cut interest rates on Thursday capped the euro.
Financial bookmakers were predicting London’s FTSE 100 would open nearly flat, with most other European markets shut for the Labour Day holiday.
U.S. stock futures were also little changed -- hinting at a subdued Wall Street open after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index settled at an all-time high on Tuesday.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched down 0.1 percent, retreating from Tuesday’s seven-week high, and dragged down by a 0.3 percent fall in Australian shares which reached their highest in nearly five years in the previous session. Most Asian bourses were closed.
The highlight of the session was China’s official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for April. Growth in China’s manufacturing sector unexpectedly slowed in April to 50.6 from an 11-month high of 50.9 in March as new export orders fell, raising fresh doubts about the strength of the economy after a disappointing first quarter.
The Australian dollar hit a session low of $1.0364, but reaction was generally muted.
“It looks like China is in a situation where sluggish growth is going to continue for longer, which is not great from a commodities point-of-view,” said Damien Boey, an equity strategist at Credit Suisse in Sydney. Australian markets are sensitive to data from China, its biggest trading partner.
London copper dropped 0.5 percent to $7,020 a tonne as the weak data from top consumer China fuelled demand concerns.
“PMIs do tend to come off in April and May, so there is a seasonal aspect, but it’s still pretty negative and our Chinese economists are quite bearish right now so that’s not great for metals,” said Natalie Rampono, analyst at ANZ Bank in Melbourne.
U.S. crude futures fell 0.5 percent to $93 a barrel and Brent slid 0.9 percent to $101.47.
Japan’s Nikkei stock average eased 0.3 percent on some disappointing earnings guidance. The Nikkei posted its best April in 20 years, reflecting a sharp improvement in investor sentiment as Japan adopts aggressive policies to end its stubborn deflation and bolster growth.
The dollar was vulnerable, staying near lows against a basket of six major currencies which hit its lowest since the end of February at 81.598 on Tuesday.
The dollar edged down 0.1 percent against the yen to 97.27 , losing the momentum it needs to challenge the symbolic 100 yen after touching a four-year high of 99.95 yen last month.
The dollar has come under pressure recently after a mixture of weak manufacturing, jobs and growth data for the first three months of 2013 and more positive reports for the housing market.
Optimism over the U.S. recovery was the main driver behind this year’s rallies in riskier investments, especially U.S. stocks, overshadowing weak spots emerging in China and the euro zone’s deteriorating economy.
“The recent weak data has cast doubt over upbeat economic views forecast at the start of the year which had led to speculation about the Fed tapering its aggressive stimulus later this year,” said Takao Hattori, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
“Investors are now concerned that data for the current quarter may be weaker than previously thought, and are starting to push back the timing of a shift in the Fed’s stance. This is prompting dollar selling.”
In this light, the U.S. non-farm payrolls report for April due on Friday is key in gauging the economic trend for the second quarter, Hattori said. March’s number came in well below expectations, at 88,000, triggering a sell-off in riskier assets.
In April consumer confidence rebounded while the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago business barometer unexpectedly contracted to its lowest level since September 2009.
Spot gold edged down 0.1 percent to $1,474.55 an ounce on a lack of physical buying and before the Fed’s decision.
While accommodative policies are generally seen as supportive for gold, the metal has not necessarily moved in tandem, noted Edward Meir, a metals analyst at futures brokerage INTL FCStone.
“Instead, it seems to pick up steam either as a result of turmoil in the financial markets or on the back of higher inflation readings, neither of which seem to be prevalent at this particular time.”
The euro held steady around $1.3168 against the dollar but eased 0.1 percent against the yen at 128.07 yen
“We think meaningful EUR moves will be driven by three fairly unrelated factors, none of which relates to monetary policy in the eurozone,” Barclays Capital said in a research note, referring to the effect of a weak yen on Germany’s growth, the likely impact from Italy’s new coalition government’s austerity policies, and a recovery in the U.S. economy.