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Asia shares sour on China, US dollar in demand

Asian shares came under pressure on Thursday after a disappointing survey on Chinese manufacturers.

Asian shares came under pressure on Thursday after a disappointing survey on Chinese manufacturers. Picture: AFP.

SYDNEY - Asian shares came under pressure on Thursday as a disappointing survey on Chinese manufacturing overshadowed better news from Japan, while the US dollar was buoyed by speculation of an earlier rate rise from the Federal Reserve.

European markets seemed more sanguine, with financial spread betters tipping opening gains of between 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent for FTSE .FTSE, DAX .GDAXI and CAC 40.FCHI.

The HSBC/Markit Flash China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) fell to 50.3 in August from July's 18-month high of 51.7, badly missing a Reuters forecast of 51.5.

Investors reacted by selling the Australian dollar AUD=D4, often a used as a liquid proxy for bets on China, while the CSI300 .CSI300 of the leading Shanghai and Shenzhen A-share listings shed 0.9 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS skidded 0.6 percent, with indices in South Korea .KS11 and Taiwan .TWII in the red.

Yet Japanese stocks managed to buck the trend aided by a survey showing manufacturing activity accelerated in August as export and domestic demand increased.

The Markit/JMMA flash Japan PMI jumped to a seasonally adjusted 52.4, up from 50.5 in July and the highest reading since March just before a hike in taxes sent demand cratering.

Tokyo's Topix .TOPX ended up 0.9 percent, as did the Nikkei .N225. They had started firmly after the yen took a spill against the US dollar, in a positive sign for Japanese exports and corporate earnings.

The dollar was higher across the board as investors detected a hawkish turn in policy discussions at the Federal Reserve.

Yields on short-term US debt had leapt by the most since March as minutes of the Fed's last meeting led markets to price in a greater risk of an earlier hike in interest rates.

The story was much the same in Britain where bond yields jumped on news that two Bank of England policymakers unexpectedly broke rank with colleagues and voted for higher interest rates earlier this month.

The US dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of six major currencies, climbed further to 82.332 .DXY after breaking decisively higher overnight.

The dollar also notched up a four-month peak against the yen at 103.96 JPY=, while the euro EUR= crumbled to an 11-1/2-month trough of $1.3243.

WHEN HAWKS CRY

On Wall Street, the Dow .DJI had ended Wednesday up 0.35 percent, while the S&P 500.SPX gained 0.25 percent and the Nasdaq .IXIC dipped 0.02 percent.

Equity investors seemed reassured that the vast majority of the Fed's voting committee wanted to keep a pledge that rates would stay near zero for a considerable time after it stops buying assets, which is expected in October.

But the minutes also revealed a more active debate about whether an earlier hike in rates might be needed.

"Our takeaway is that the median FOMC participant has been surprised by how quickly the unemployment rate has come down and is also less convinced there is as much slack in the labour market as previously believed," said Michelle Girard, chief economist at RBS.

With cries of the hawks ringing in their ears, bond investors chose to punish Treasuries. Shorter-dated debt was hit hardest as it is typically more sensitive to expectations on changes in the official Fed funds rate.

Yields on two-year paper US2YT=RR shot up 5 basis points to 0.4757 percent, the biggest daily increase since March.

Fed funds futures fell as the market brought forward the timing of a first hike. Futures for June next year now imply a rate of 27 basis points, compared to 23 basis points early in the week.

The current target for Fed funds is a range of zero to 25 basis points and it effectively trades at just eight basis points.

In commodity markets, the rise in the dollar slapped gold down to $1,285.55 an ounce XAU=, and further away from last week's peak of $1,319.10.

Oil ran into renewed selling after a modest bounce on Wednesday quickly petered out. Brent crude for delivery in October LCOc1 was 32 cents easier at $101.96 a barrel, while US crude CLc1 lost 31 cents to $93.14, having touched its lowest since January.

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