* China premier comments quash any additional stimulus hopes
* Fed officials offer no fresh clues on timing of stimulus withdrawal
* Investors await U.S. GDP, payrolls data later this week
* Euro under pressure ahead of Thursday’s ECB meeting
* Australian shares extend gains after RBA holds steady as expected
By Lisa Twaronite
TOKYO, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Asian shares sagged on Tuesday after hawkish comments from China’s premier ahead of a key Communist Party meeting, though expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will maintain its stimulus for a while limited losses.
The euro continued to languish on rising expectations that the European Central Bank will cut rates further, with a few expecting the ECB to take action as early as its Thursday meeting.
European shares were tipped to open slightly higher, with financial spreadbetters expecting Britain’s FTSE 100 to open 17 to 18 points higher, or as much as 0.3 percent; Germany’s DAX to gain 9 to 23 points, or up to 0.3 percent; and France’s CAC 40 to add 4 to 8 points, or as much as 0.2 percent.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped about 0.2 percent, though Japan’s Nikkei stock average bounced off its lows and managed a 0.2 percent gain.
Australian shares bucked the downtrend, shrugging off the China concerns and ending up 0.8 percent. Shares moved back toward last month’s five-year high after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept its cash rate steady at a record low of 2.5 percent as widely expected.
The Shanghai Composite Index also erased early losses and was up 0.2 percent, though Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 0.4 percent.
Premier Li Keqiang said in speech published in full late on Monday that adding extra stimulus would be more difficult since printing new money would cause inflation. China needs 7.2 percent economic growth to generate 10 million jobs, Li said in the speech, which was delivered on Oct. 21.
“His comments are different from what people were expecting. He definitely sounds more hawkish now and this is a shift from what he said earlier this year about bottom-line growth,” said Hong Hao, chief strategist, Bank of Communications International.
Li’s remarks were published as China’s leaders prepare to meet from Nov 9 to Nov 12 at a Communist Party plenum at which major reform drive has been foreshadowed.
Concerns over China’s prospects were tempered by a private survey on Tuesday which showed growth in the service sector edged up in October, indicating further stabilisation in the world’s second-largest economy.
U.S. S&P E-mini futures edged slightly higher, after the S&P 500 Index closed up 0.4 percent on Monday, just shy of a record high, as a spate of comments from Federal Reserve officials offered investors no reason to believe a rollback of the U.S. stimulus programme was imminent.
Eric Rosengren, president of the Boston Fed, said late on Monday that it may be appropriate to reduce the quantitative easing program when there is “compelling evidence of a sustainable recovery making satisfactory progress toward full employment.”
Earlier on Monday, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the central bank need not rush because inflation remains low, while Fed Board Governor Jerome Powell said the tapering timing “is necessarily uncertain, as it depends on the evolution of the economy.”
The dollar index, which measures the greenback against six major currencies, gained 0.1 percent to 80.624, holding well above a nine-month low of 78.998 hit on Oct. 25.
Against the Japanese currency, the dollar fell about 0.1 percent to 98.47 yen.
The euro slipped 0.1 percent to $1.3501, holding above Monday’s low of $1.3441, which was its lowest since Sept. 18, but remaining well below a nearly two-year high of $1.3832 set on Oct. 25, as investors began to price in the likelihood of ECB easing action.
Money markets were already pricing in the possibility of looser ECB policy in the coming year and began to show a chance of a cut in the next few months — a few big banks expect a cut as early as this week.
A rate cut would hurt the euro’s yield advantage over other currencies and make it less appealing for investors.
“We expect the ECB to leave its interest rates and forward guidance unchanged at Thursday’s meeting,” strategists at Barclays wrote in a note to clients.
“However, the latest decline in inflation has raised the likelihood that the main refinancing rate could be cut again by 25 basis points in December,” they added.
The ECB last lowered its refinancing rate in May, to a record low of 0.5 percent.
In addition to the ECB, investors will continue to focus on U.S. data for clues on the timing of when the Fed will begin to taper its monthly purchases of $85 billion in assets.
On Friday, the closely-watched October non-farm payrolls data will be released. Fed policymakers want to see the unemployment rate dropping closer to 6.5 percent from the current 7.2 percent, but economists in a Reuters survey expect the rate to have edged up in October to 7.3 percent.
Ahead of the jobs report, third-quarter gross domestic product data will be published on Thursday. Those figures will help show how strong the momentum in the economy was before last month’s partial government shutdown.
Data on Monday showed orders for a wide range of U.S.-made capital goods fell more than expected in September, suggesting companies cut their investment plans. But other recent data indicated that factory activity accelerated in October.
In commodities trading, spot gold edged up 0.1 percent to $1,315.59 an ounce. Copper added 0.7 percent to $7,196.75 a tonne from the previous session, when it fell 1.4 percent.
U.S. crude also inched up 0.1 percent to $94.72 a barrel, but stuck close to four-month lows touched on Monday on worries about growth in demand after a survey showed U.S. oil inventories were rising.