Asian shares lower on Indian rate move

HONG KONG: A surprise rate hike from the Reserve Bank of India triggered fears that other central banks in Asia may step up inflation-fighting efforts, leading shares lower across the region Monday.

Analysts had widely expected the RBI to raise rates soon, but the timing of Friday's 25 basis-point rise for its key lending and borrowing rates, between policy meetings, caught markets off guard.

"India's surprise rate hike may renew concerns about the prospect of an earlier-than-expected rate increase by China," Kim Seung-han at HI Investment & Securities in Seoul told Dow Jones Newswires.

Markets have nervously watched China after it took steps to calm inflationary pressures by repeatedly ordering banks to increase their capital reserves in recent months -- limiting the amount of money they can lend.

Hong Kong fell 2.05 percent, or 437.57 points to 20,933.25 as rate-sensitive property developers slumped.

Shanghai edged up 0.22 percent, or 6.83 points to 3,074.58, buoyed by airline stocks but doubts over the government's latest efforts to rein in property prices limited gains, dealers said.

China on Thursday ordered 78 state-owned companies, whose core businesses were not related to the property market, to stop investing in real estate amid concerns a damaging bubble is forming in the sector.

Markets in Japan were closed for a public holiday.

Sydney dropped 42 points, or 0.87 percent, to 4,830.2.

As a court case began in Shanghai at which four Rio Tinto employees are on trial for bribery and trade-secrets charges, shares in the Anglo-Australian miner dropped 1.52 percent to 75.03 dollars. Rival BHP was off 1.41 percent.

Shares in Arrow Energy, the coal seam gas developer which announced it has agreed to sell its Australian operations to Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina for 3.15 billion US dollars, dropped 3.59 percent to 5.10 dollars (4.66 US).

The region reacted negatively to the Reserve Bank of India's decision to increase short-term rates from record lows late Friday to battle near double-digit annual inflation amid fast-strengthening industrial output.

Expectations had been for a rate hike at the bank's scheduled policy review on April 20 but the RBI said in a statement that inflation had "been a source of growing concern."

The wholesale price index (WPI) in Asia's third-largest economy was 9.89 percent in February, well above the central bank's own estimate of 8.5 percent by the end of the current financial year this month.

Gold closed sharply lower on interest rate concerns at 1,107.00-1,108.00 US dollars an ounce, down from Friday's close of 1,124.00-1,125.00 dollars.

"There is more talk of inflation coming through, in other words, interest rates are on the rise," which could weigh on gold as India is a major consumer of the metal, said Investec head of trading Darren Heathcote.

The dollar took a small hit Monday from the approval of an ambitious health-care bill by the US Congress before regaining ground, said dealers.

The euro bounced from levels close to the intraday low against the greenback after the US House passed a far-reaching, 940 billion dollar bill that will subject US industries to a redrawn and newly-regulated marketplace, and may worsen the country's fiscal picture in coming years, dealers said.

But the single currency remained weighed by concerns over Greece's fiscal problems in quiet trade with Japanese markets closed for a holiday.

The euro fetched 1.3507 dollars, from 1.3535 dollars in late New York trade Friday and stood at 122.45 yen from 122.50. The dollar was at 90.66 yen from 90.54.

Oil was lower. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for April delivery fell 49 cents to 80.19 dollars and Brent North Sea crude for May delivery dropped 39 cents to 79.49 dollars.