Asian shares flat as investors ponder central bank policy options

Asian shares were flat on Monday as investors looked to test a theory that the world's major central banks will continue to keep monetary policy easy and in some cases loosen further.

Japan's Nikkei share average rose 0.2%, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked down 0.1%.

Expectations that the European Central Bank is preparing a package of policy options for its early June meeting, including cuts in all its interest rates, depressed bond yields not only in Europe but also in the United States last week.

Strong US housing data released on Friday helped US Treasuries yield bounce back from six-month lows, with the 10-year yield starting the week at 2.520%, versus a six-month low of 2.473%.

Given a light data calendar in the next couple of days, investors' main focus is on the minutes of the Fed's policy meeting due on Wednesday, in which analysts expect to find a discussion on the Fed's exit strategy from super-easy policy.

"The positive US housing data was reassuring. But a lot of investors are likely to take a wait-and-see stance given the lack of a strong catalyst for buying," said Tsuyoshi Shimizu, chief strategist at Mizuho Asset Management.

In the currency market, the euro remained under pressure on expectation of stimulus by the ECB following soft euro zone growth data published last week.

The euro could see fresh trading impetus later in the day when a few ECB policy makers will speak publicly. The euro traded at $1.3696, not far from 2 1/2-mont low of $1.3648 touched on Thursday.

Against the yen, it changed hands at 139.05 yen, near three-month low of 138.77 yen hit on Friday.

The yen also had the upper hand on the dollar, after US bond yields plunged last week, undermining yield attraction of the dollar.

The dollar traded at 101.54 yen, near the low end of its narrow trading band between 101.20 and 104.13 in the past three months.

Japan's machinery orders jumped more than expected in March, official figures showed on Monday, but the indicator had limited impact as it is known to be a highly volatile.

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