Asian shares recouped early losses on Thursday but held below the previous session's one-month highs, while expectations of credit easing by the European Central Bank knocked yields on US and European bonds. Financial spreadbetters expected Britain's FTSE 100 to open 6 to 8 points lower, or down 0.1%; Germany's DAX to open 25 to 29 points lower, or down 0.3%; and France's CAC 40 to open 8 to 9 points lower, or down 0.2%. US stock futures were little changed.
"European indices are set to ease on the open as traders worry that yesterday's practically flat finishes have marked the apex of the up move," Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at London Capital Group, said in a note to clients.Investors were awaiting first-quarter economic growth figures for euro zone countries, including Germany, France and Italy, as well as inflation data for the region.
German economic growth doubled to 0.8% quarter-on-quarter in the first three months of 2014, thanks to domestic demand and mild weather, data showed. France's economy stalled, however, amid weak consumer spending and business investment.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.1% but did not retest the previous session's one-month high. Shares struggled to rise after Wall Street retreated overnight from record highs marked the day before. Japan's Nikkei fell 0.8% as a stronger yen hurt sentiment, despite stronger than expected first-quarter economic growth. Expectations of monetary easing by the ECB, meanwhile, drove bond prices up and yields down.
Reuters on Wednesday quoted sources as saying the central bank is preparing a package of policy options for its June meeting, including cuts in all its interest rates, and targeted measures aimed at boosting lending to small and mid-sized firms. The yield on benchmark 10-year US Treasuries fell to six-month low of 2.525%, breaking out of a long-held range, and last stood at 2.553%. The yield on 10-year German Bunds fell to a one-year low of 1.369% while Italian 10-year debt yielded a record low of 2.901%.
British government bond yields dropped to a six-month low of 2.578% when the Bank of England offered a surprisingly dovish monetary policy outlook, even though the BoE was seen as likely to be one of the earliest major central banks to raise interest rates sooner rather than later. The BoE pushed back against expectations it might raise interest rates in less than a year's time, leaving largely unchanged its assumptions on the timing of interest rate rises even as it acknowledged a strong recovery in the labour market.
"Their comments are extremely similar to what the Fed has said. Yes, the jobless rate is falling faster but wages are not rising much," said Tohru Yamamoto, chief fixed-income strategist
at Daiwa Securities. Small wage rises mean low inflationary pressure, allowing central banks to maintain extremely easy monetary policy. "So you can say that markets are now starting to expect a new normal, where wages do not rise much (in developed countries). If even the BoE won't raise rates, the Fed probably won't either," Yamamoto added.
In the currency market, sterling, which had been rallying so far this year on BoE expectations, fell to a one-month low of $1.6753 and was last steady on the day at $1.6768. The euro was also nearly flat at $1.3715, not far from Tuesday's one-month low of $1.36885, after tumbling 2% from a 2 1/2-year high just under $1.40 on ECB chief Mario Draghi's signals last week that he stands ready to ease policy next month. Against the yen, the dollar retook some lost ground late in the Asian session and was up about 0.1% at 101.95 yen, after earlier falling as low as 101.66 yen on Japanese GDP data.
The yen initially gained after the figures showed Japan's economy grew at its quickest pace in over two years in the first quarter, boosted by last-minute buying ahead of sales tax hike in April and a jump in business investment. "Strong economic indicators tend to be associated with expectations of Bank of Japan foregoing further easing, so there may have been a knee-jerk reaction," said Kyosuke Suzuki,
director of forex at Societe Generale in Tokyo.The yen's gains hurt Japanese shares, leading the Nikkei share average to close down 0.8%.
Later in the day, US CPI and industrial output figures are due.In commodities trading, US crude was down about 0.3% at $102.02 a barrel but were close to three-week highs hit overnight on the back of a draw on crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma contract delivery point.Spot gold was little changed at $1,305.50, not far from a 1-week high, after gaining nearly 1% overnight.