Asian shares steady, but strong yen sinks Nikkei

TOKYO: Asian shares were steady on Thursday as Wall Street eked out modest gains after the latest batch of US data provided few clues on when the Federal Reserve might raise rates, while a resurgent yen pressured equity markets in Japan.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was flat in early trading.

Japan's Nikkei .N225 skidded 1.3 percent, after the dollar sunk to a two-week low against the yen overnight following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official announcement late on Wednesday of his widely expected decision to delay a sales tax increase.

"There were suggestions that markets were disappointed that PM Abe only announced the widely expected postponement of the sales tax increase and nothing specific on near term fiscal stimulus," Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac, said in a note on Thursday.

Surveys over the past 24 hours also highlighted a sluggish global economy, with manufacturing activity across Asia, Europe and the Americas barely improving as producers struggled to bring in new orders.

A spate of US economic data on Wednesday failed to reveal any fresh clues as to when the US Federal Reserve might opt to raise interest rates, after central bank officials hinted such an increase could come as early as this month.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity rose for a third straight month in May. But factories appeared to be taking in fewer deliveries from their suppliers. Separate data showed May automobile sales rose from April.

Investors focused on the brighter spots in the economy helped Wall Street pull off its lows, and braced for Friday's key non-farm payrolls report for the latest clues on the strength of the labour market recovery.

Economists predict the report will show that US employers added 170,000 jobs, slightly more than they did in April. Hourly wages are expected to show a 0.2 percent increase from the previous month.

The dollar slipped 0.2 percent to 109.32 yen JPY= after dipping as low as 109.05 on Wednesday.

The euro edged down 0.1 percent to 122.38 yen EURJPY=R, nursing its losses after dropping to lows of 121.91 overnight, its weakest since May 6.

Against the dollar, the euro was treading water at $ 1.1192 EUR= ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the session. The ECB is widely anticipated to hold steady on monetary policy.

Crude oil futures slipped after a choppy session on Wednesday, as investors awaited developments from this week's OPEC meeting.

Reuters cited four sources from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as saying the industry group was likely to discuss an output ceiling at its meeting in Vienna on Thursday. But later, Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh disagreed.

US crude CLc1 was down 0.5 percent at $48.77 a barrel, but remained above its overnight session low of $47.75. Brent LCOc1 percent was 0.3 percent lower at $49.59.