HONG KONG: Asian stocks edged higher on Tuesday after a six-day losing streak and the dollar firmed against the safe-haven Japanese yen, but gains were capped as a slump in China's imports raised fears of a more severe slowdown there.
China's August exports fell less than expected but a steeper slide in imports pointed to continuing economic weakness, adding to concerns over the health of the economy, a day after foreign exchange reserves numbers revealed accelerating outflows.
The weak data raised expectations of more policy easing in the coming months. A Reuters poll at end-August showed a 80 percent of respondents expected a further cut in the reserve requirement ratio and 70 percent saw a chance of interest rate cuts.
"I'm not optimistic about the prospect of exports and it's unlikely China can achieve the export target this year," said Nie Wen, analyst at Hwabao Trust in Shanghai. "There will be at least three more reserve requirement rate cuts this year to counteract capital outflows."
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent but remained near a three-year low hit two weeks ago.
US stock futures trimmed gains to 0.6 percent after a long weekend.
Japan's Nikkei fell 1.8 percent, extending its rebound from a seven-month low hit early on Monday while Australia rose 0.7 percent in early trades.
Chinese stocks extended losses, while Hong Kong edged higher.
Highlighting the growing concerns about economic stability and capital outflows from China, its foreign exchange reserves fell by a record $94 billion in August as the central bank struggled to steady the yuan after its surprise devaluation.
Nomura strategists reckon that once adjusted for currency revaluation effects, the decline in reserves was more likely around $129 billion. That comes after a 2.6 percent monthly drop in the value of the yuan against the US dollar, and raised doubts about how long China can continue supporting the yuan at current levels if the economy continues to cool.
"The fall was larger than market expectations...Coupled with other data, it shows that the Chinese authorities have been intervening to support the yuan as capital outflows continue," said Shin Kadota, chief FX strategist at Barclays in Tokyo.
In contrast to Beijing's mountain of reserves backing the yuan, other emerging market currencies weren't so lucky.
Malaysia's ringgit plumbed fresh 17-year lows while the Indonesian rupiah slipped towards 14,500 - levels not seen since the Asian financial crisis, both under pressure because of relatively limited foreign currency reserves.
With U.S. financial markets shut on Monday, the dollar moved little against major currencies.
The dollar index stood at 96.159, little changed from late last week.
Against the yen, the dollar ticked up slightly to 119.37 yen, still half-way in recovering its losses on Friday. The euro stood little changed at $1.11670.
Oil prices fell more than 3 percent on Monday as the drop in Chinese share prices and record North Sea production added to global oversupply concerns.
Brent crude futures rose 0.7 percent to $47.94 after a 3.7 percent fall on Monday. They still traded below the 50 percent retracement of their rally late August to $54.32 from 1/2-year low of $42.23.