Tokyo: Asian shares fell to a two-week low on Monday after growth in China`s services sector slowed sharply last month, raising concerns about the pace of recovery in the world`s second-largest economy, while safe-haven gold climbed.
The dollar hovered near a four-week high, supported by an upbeat outlook on the US economy by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that fanned expectations of faster stimulus reduction by the US central bank.
MSCI`s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.6 percent, reaching a two-week low and adding to a 1.1 percent drop on Friday. The index lost 1.7 percent last year, sharply underperforming US, Japanese and European stocks.
China`s CSI300 index sagged 1.6 percent, hitting a five-month low and adding to last year`s 7.6 percent decline after the HSBC/Markit services sector Purchasing Managers` Index fell to 50.9 in December from 52.5 in the previous month, with new business expansion the slowest in six months.
Thai stocks may come under further pressure after hitting a 16-month low on Friday driven by heightened political uncertainties ahead of next month`s general election. The baht fell a near four-year low of 33.09 per dollar.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei share average stumbled 2.2 percent in the first trading day of 2014. The benchmark jumped 57 percent last year to mark its best annual rise since 1972 on the back of massive fiscal and monetary stimulus.
As Japanese equities took a beating, the yen got some respite against the dollar, up 0.6 percent at 104.275 yen, not far from a two-week high of 104.08 yen touched last Friday.
Against a basket of major currencies, the dollar added 0.1 percent to near a four-week high set on Friday, helped by Bernanke`s comments.
Bernanke, who steps down as head of the Fed at month`s end, gave an upbeat assessment of the US economy in coming quarters, but he tempered the good news in housing, finance and fiscal policies by repeating that the overall recovery "clearly remains incomplete".
US stocks ended last week slightly weaker, with the Standard & Poor`s 500 down 0.5 percent for the week after it jumped 30 percent in 2013. <.N>US JOBS, ECB THIS WEEK
Friday`s nonfarm payrolls data will give further clues as to how well the US economy is recovering and how fast the Fed will unwind its stimulus campaign, which has been a major driver for global assets in the past few years.
"With the Fed having set the tapering process in motion, it would likely take a fairly significant miss to derail tapering expectations and push yields significantly lower from their year-end levels," analysts at BNP Paribas wrote in a note.
"Against this backdrop, the dollar is likely to remain generally well-supported this week, particularly versus the lower-yielding G10 currencies," they added.
Before the jobs report on Friday, investors will focus on the minutes of the Fed`s December policy meeting, due out on Jan 8, and the European Central Bank`s policy gathering on Thursday.
The euro was little changed at USD 1.35845, taking a pause after dropping 0.6 percent in the previous session.
Among commodities, gold advanced 0.5 percent a near three-week high of about USD 1,242.3 an ounce, heading for a fifth-day of gains. The precious metal suffered a 28 percent slump in 2013, its worst yearly performance since 1981, largely due to the Fed`s plan to unwind its stimulus programme.
US crude futures gained 0.2 percent to above USD 94 a barrel, coming off a four-week low set on Friday after data showed a larger-than-expected build in distillates.
First Published: Monday, January 06, 2014, 08:59