Asia shares muted on China data, euro on defensive


SYDNEY: Asian share markets were in the red on Monday as mixed Chinese economic news underlined the country's bumpy recovery, while political uncertainty in Europe soured risk appetites and kept the euro on the defensive.

Chinese blue chips were off 0.2% after retail sales topped forecasts by rising 3.7% in May, but industrial output and fixed-asset investment both underwhelmed.

Other data showed home prices fell at the fastest pace in a decade in May, highlighting the continued strains in the property sector.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) kept its one-year rate unchanged, dashing some speculation of a cut following surprisingly soft bank lending data.

China's official Financial News on Monday reported there was still room to lower rates, but there were internal and external constraints on policy.

That made for cautious trading, and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.2%.

Japan's Nikkei slipped 1.9%, with investors now facing a six-week wait to hear details of the Bank of Japan's next tightening steps.

EUROSTOXX 50 futures bounced 0.3% after last week's steep losses, while FTSE futures edged up 0.4%.

S&P 500 futures were steady, while Nasdaq futures added 0.1% following a run of record finishes.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs have raised their year-end target for the S&P 500 to 5,600, from 5,200 and the current 5,431.

"Our 2024 and 2025 earnings estimates remain unchanged but stellar earnings growth by five mega-cap tech stocks have offset the typical pattern of negative revisions to consensus EPS estimates," they wrote in a note.

The main U.S. data of the week will be retail sales for May on Tuesday, where a 0.4% bounce is expected after a 0.3% drop in April, while markets have a holiday on Wednesday.

At least 10 policymakers from the Federal Reserve are due to speak this week and will no doubt address the market's wagers for two rate cuts this year.

While the Fed itself sounded a hawkish note last week, a trio of soft inflation numbers led futures to price in a 76% chance of a cut as early as September and 50 basis points of easing for the year.

EYES ON SNB

Central banks in Australia, Norway and the UK are all expected to hold rates steady at meetings this week, though the Swiss National Bank (SNB) might well ease given the recent strength of the Swiss franc.

Markets have boosted the probability of a cut to 75% as political uncertainty in France drove the euro to a four-month trough at 0.9505 francs on Friday.

French markets endured a brutal sell-off last week ahead of a snap election that might give a majority to the far right, with risks to the country's fiscal position and the stability of the euro zone.

European Central Bank policymakers told Reuters they had no plans to launch emergency purchases of French bonds to stabilise the market after yield spreads over German bunds widened dramatically amid a flight to safety. "A French challenge to the region's fiscal arrangements would be problematic and have far-reaching implications," warned analysts at JPMorgan. "At this stage, the situation in the run-up to the first round of voting is still very fluid."

That left the euro pinned at $1.0703, after shedding 0.9% last week to touch a six-week low of $1.06678.

The dollar was stable on the yen at 157.45, after briefly spiking above 158.00 on Friday when the BOJ said it would start tapering bond buying a little later than many had wagered on.

In commodity markets, gold dipped 0.5% to $2,321 an ounce, unwinding some of last week's 1.7% bounce.

Oil prices eased a touch after rallying 4% last week amid hopes for stronger demand from the U.S. driving season.

Brent dipped 27 cents to $82.35 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell 28 cents to $78.17 per barrel. - Reuters

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