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Asian shares inch up after China stimulus step

Date:2016-01-08

Asian shares rose on Tuesday, bolstered by China's monetary easing and downbeat manufacturing and service surveys that raised hopes of additional measures, though lackluster U.S. and European data kept concerns about global growth momentum alive.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up about 0.2 percent, though Japan's Nikkei (.N225) was down 0.9 percent, crimped by gains in the yen.

The Shanghai Composite Index (.SSEC) erased early losses and added 0.5 percent, and the CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 0.6 percent.

An official survey showed activity in China's manufacturing sector shrank for a seventh straight month in February, more sharply than expected, while the services sector continued to expand although at its slowest pace since late 2008.

The private Caixin/Markit China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index also fell, falling short of both market expectations and the previous month's reading.

On Monday, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) said on its website that it cut its reserve requirement ratio, or the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, by 50 basis points.

"We think the PBOC easing is consistent with continued weaker-than-expected economic activity and downside risks to growth," wrote Jian Chang, an analyst at Barclays. "It should help to support market sentiment in the near term."

China's move, combined with a drop in crude output from OPEC and the United States, and a pledge by Saudi Arabia to limit market volatility, lifted crude oil futures overnight and helped them post their first gaining month in four.

Crude gave back some of those gains on Tuesday. Brent futures (LCOc1) slumped 0.6 percent to $36.34 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures (CLc1) shed 0.5 percent to $33.59 after surging 3 percent overnight.

Wall Street shrugged off Monday's higher oil prices and finished lower, with MSCI's global stocks index logging its fourth straight losing month.

Downbeat U.S. data revived concerns about the strength of the economy. Contracts to buy previously-owned U.S. homes fell to their lowest level in a year in January, while the Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index - a leading indicator of the U.S. economy's health - contracted to 47.6 in February.

The latest figures followed last week's spate of strong data, including improving consumer spending, that had suggested the U.S. economic recovery was on track and the Federal Reserve could still raise interest rates again this year.

Figures released on Monday showed euro zone annual inflation fell back into negative territory last month, adding to the pressure facing the European Central Bank to further ease monetary policy this month.

All 18 euro money-market traders polled by Reuters expect the ECB to cut its deposit rate again at its March 10 meeting, and they said there was an even chance it would also increase its monthly asset purchases.

Those expectations weighed on the euro, which edged up about 0.1 percent to $1.0885 (EUR=) but remained not far from a one-month low of $1.0859 struck on Monday.

Against the perceived safe-haven yen, the common currency was down 0.2 percent at 122.24 (EURJPY=R), not far from a low of 122.085, which was its lowest level since April 2013.

The dollar was buying 112.30 yen (JPY=), down about 0.4 percent.

The Australian dollar dipped about 0.4 percent against its U.S. counterpart to $0.7115 (AUD=D4) ahead of a policy decision from the Reserve Bank of Australia due at 0330 GMT.

Australia's central bank is seen likely to stand pat, leaving its cash rate unchanged at a record low 2.0 percent.

(Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney; Editing by Sam Holmes and Eric Meijer)