By Chikako Mogi
TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares were steady on Wednesday as investors marked time before key U.S. jobs data later this week amid speculation over when the U.S. Federal Reserve’s would begin scaling down its massive stimulus programme.
U.S. stocks ended lower on Tuesday, resuming their recent decline as investors sold growth-oriented sectors on worries over a shift in the Fed’s current policy, while the dollar was underpinned by the potential for less monetary stimulus.
Kansas City Fed President Esther George said on Tuesday that slowing the pace of bond buying would not mean tightening U.S. monetary policy and would help wean financial markets off their dependence on ultra-easy money.
Her comments were the latest to feed speculation over the Fed’s future policy path after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and other top Fed officials recently suggested they could start paring bond purchases as soon as the Fed’s next few meetings if the economy improves further.
Investors have thus become even more cautious than usual before monthly nonfarm payrolls data due on Friday as the U.S. central bank has made an improving jobs situation a precondition for softening its strong stimulus measures.
“The Taper-debate rumbles but it’s a question of when, not if policy gets less easy. That’s probably the lesson from recent ‘mixed’ data,” Kit Juckes, a strategist at Societe Generale in London said in a note to clients.
“I meet plenty of people who think any talk of U.S. rate normalisation is premature, but nearly all concede ‘new normal neutral’ is much higher than here. That’s a recipe for a bearish Treasury, bullish USD, cautious credit bias and also for higher vol,” he said.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed, after snapping a four-day losing streak on Tuesday. The pan-Asian index touched its lowest in nearly six months on Monday.
The dollar was up 0.3 percent against the yen at 100.28, off Monday’s three-week low of 98.86. The dollar index, measured against a basket of six key currencies, was steady around 82.833, having moved away from Monday’s three-week low of 82.428.
In Asia, markets will also be watching HSBC’s report on China’s services sector due at 0145 GMT.
Equity markets in the region showed Australian shares were steady while South Korean shares also opened flat.
Japan’s Nikkei stock average opened up 0.2 percent. A reversal in the yen’s strength was supportive but investors were cautiously awaiting the government’s delivery of a growth strategy to revive the economy due later in the session.
The Nikkei closed up 2.1 percent on Tuesday after hitting a seven-week low earlier in the day. The index, which had charged up to a 5-1/2-year peak less than two weeks ago for a gain of 53 percent since the end of 2012, has now lost 15 percent since then.
Renewed talk of a possible Fed tapering in monetary stimulus pressured bullion prices, with spot gold trading down 0.1 percent at $1,397.79 an ounce.
U.S. crude futures were up 0.5 percent at $93.73 a barrel.
Asset returns in 2013: http://link.reuters.com/dub25t
(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)