By Daniel Leussink
TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares were subdued on Thursday after a negative performance on Wall Street, with caution ahead of business surveys in Europe and Japan, and the Good Friday and Easter holidays keeping investors on the sidelines.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched up 0.08 percent, trading just below its highest since late July 2018 brushed on Wednesday.
Australian shares advanced a quarter of a percent while Japan’s Nikkei was a shade lower.
“We’re in this kind of hiatus in the global economy,” said Chris Weston, head of research at foreign exchange brokerage Pepperstone in Melbourne.
“People are starting to believe that we’re going to see better times in the second quarter and probably into the third quarter as well, and that perhaps the first quarter has been that trough.”
Wall Street shares ended in the red on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 falling 0.2 percent as a drop in healthcare equities outweighed upbeat economic data from the United States and China
The U.S. trade deficit fell to an eight-month low in February as imports from China plunged, data on Wednesday showed.
Separate figures from China earlier in the day showed the world’s second-largest economy grew at a steady 6.4 percent pace in the first quarter, defying forecasts for a slowdown. Attention is now turning to how much more stimulus Beijing will apply without triggering more financial risks.
Investors’ immediate focus turned to the release of Purchasing Managers Indexes (PMIs) for the manufacturing and service sectors in Europe later on Thursday to provide more clues on the strength of the euro zone economy.
“It’s going to be interesting to see if we see some stabilization there in line with what we’ve been seeing in the stabilization in the Chinese data flow,” said Pepperstone’s Weston.
A flash manufacturing reading will also be released for Japan.
YENNEAR 2019 LOW
Market participants are also eyeing signs of progress in U.S.-China trade negotiations.
Washington and Beijing set a tentative timeline for a fresh round of face-to-face meetings ahead of a possible signing ceremony in late May or early June, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Attorney General William Barr is set to hold a news conference at 1330 GMT to discuss the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
“The lack of love for the yen, I suppose, is just telling us that people aren’t seeing this as a general risk event,” said Pepperstone’s Weston.
“It’s probably worth keeping a beady eye in case something really does come out that shocks market into life.”
In the currency market, the safe-haven yen was slightly up at 112.00 yen per dollar, sitting just above a near four-month low of 112.17 brushed overnight.
The euro ticked up to $1.1297, while the Australian dollar was 0.1 percent lower at $0.7173 ahead of job data (0130 GMT).
The dollar index held steady at 97.019 after ending the previous session basically unchanged.
In commodity markets, oil prices were slightly lower as U.S. government data overnight showed inventories drew down less than an industry report had suggested on Tuesday.
U.S. crude was last down 8 cents at $63.68 a barrel, while global benchmark Brent crude futures dipped 7 cents to $71.55.
Spot gold held steady at $1,274.60 per ounce, hovering near its lowest for the year.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)