An investor reads the finance section of a newspaper at a brokerage in Beijing. Picture: REUTERS
An investor reads the finance section of a newspaper at a brokerage in Beijing. Picture: REUTERS

Tokyo — Asian stocks inched down from 10-year highs on Thursday following a burst of Chinese data that was largely weaker than markets expected, while the dollar held steady ahead of US inflation data due later in the day.

China’s fixed-asset investment, factory output and retail sales all grew less than expected, reinforcing views that the world’s second-largest economy is gradually beginning to lose steam in the face of rising borrowing costs.

That took some of the shine off China’s surprisingly robust growth in the first half of the year, which has helped fuel stronger global demand, particularly for commodities, but analysts do not see a risk of a sharp slowdown in its economic momentum.

The Australian dollar, often used as a liquid proxy of China-linked trades, pared gains after the Chinese readings but was still up 0.3% at $0.8006 after a much stronger than expected jobs report.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged down 0.1% after rising to its highest since 2007 the day before. China stocks dipped into the red after the data, giving up modest early gains.

Japan’s Nikkei eased 0.2%, while the broader Topix briefly brushed a two-year high as the yen weakened. Reaction to media reports of North Korean threats against Japan were so far limited.

"Foreign investors’ short-covering seems to have run its course, while China’s weak data soured market sentiment," said Norihiro Fujito, a senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Australian shares lost 0.2% while South Korea’s Kospi edged up 0.1%. Wall Street edged up to a record high on Wednesday, with gains in consumer discretionary and energy stocks helping offset losses in technology heavyweight Apple.

The dollar stood tall, lifted as US treasury yields climbed to two-and-a-half-week highs on an ongoing improvement in broader investor risk sentiment.

But trading was subdued as traders awaited US consumer inflation data later in the day to see if it will change the perception of subdued inflation and slow credit tightening in the US.

The expectation that the Federal Reserve will increase rates again in 2017 have waned as price pressures remain stubbornly weak.

The dollar index, a measured against a basket of six major currencies, was at 92.452 after touching 92.530 overnight, its highest since September 5.

It had slumped to a two-and-a-half-year low of 91.011 on Friday, when Hurricane Irma threatened the continental US and on North Korea concerns.

"The dollar would be sold if the CPI turns out to be weak but the main focal point is how the stock market reacts to such an outcome," said Junichi Ishikawa, senior forex strategist at IG Securities in Tokyo.

"The US financial sector has benefited from the recent rise in yields. Should yields fall on lacklustre CPI data, that could be used as a pretext to sell US stocks which have already hit successive record highs."

The dollar set a one-month high of ¥110.735 before drifting to ¥110.475. So far this week it has gained 2.5% against its Japanese peer, a currency often sought in times of risk aversion.

The euro was down 0.1% at $1.1878 after losing 0.7% the previous day, while sterling was flat at $1.3204.

The pound hit a one-year high of $1.3329 on Wednesday following strong domestic inflation data, with the currency market braced for the closely watched Bank of England (BoE) policy meeting due later on Thursday.

The BoE must decide on Thursday how forcefully to phrase the prospects of a first interest rate rise in a decade when it weighs up the need to help Britain’s Brexit-bound economy against tackling a jump in inflation.

In commodities, crude oil prices dipped slightly after posting a big surge overnight after the International Energy Agency (IEA) said a global surplus of crude was starting to shrink.

Brent crude futures was down 0.25% at $55.02 a barrel after reaching a five-month peak of $55.21 the previous day.

US crude slipped 0.2% to $49.21 a barrel after rallying 2.2% overnight.


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