Asia shares brace for China data, euro pressure

Business

Asian share markets are mostly softer ahead of a slew of Chinese economic news, while political uncertainty in Europe soured risk appetites and kept the euro on the defensive.

Analysts expect annual growth in China's retail sales picked up to 3.0 per cent in May, from 2.3 per cent, with some upside risk thanks to holidays that month. Industrial output is seen slowing a little to 6.0 per cent, from 6.7 per cent, with growth in urban investment steady.

There was also talk the People's Bank of China (PBOC) could cut a key lending rate by 10 basis points, in part due to surprisingly weak bank lending data released on Friday.

That made for a cautious start, and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was a fraction softer.

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Japan's Nikkei slipped 1.7 per cent, with investors now facing a six-week wait to hear details of the Bank of Japan's next tightening steps.

S&P 500 futures were flat, while Nasdaq futures edged up 0.1 per cent after 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 US data of the week will be retail sales for May on Tuesday, where a 0.4 per cent bounce is expected after a 0.3 per cent drop in April, while markets have a holiday on Wednesday.

At least 10 policy makers 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 price in a 76 per cent chance of a cut as early as September and 50 basis points of easing for the year.

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

Markets have boosted the probability of a cut to 75 per cent 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 $1.0706, after shedding 0.9 per cent last week to touch a six-week low of $1.06678.

The dollar was a shade firmer on the yen at 157.54 , 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 held at $2,326 an ounce, after bouncing 1.7 per cent last week.

Oil prices eased a touch after rallying 4 per cent last week amid hopes for stronger demand from the US driving season.

Brent dipped 17 cents to $82.45 a barrel, while US crude also fell 17 cents to $78.28 per barrel.

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