Asian shares subdued before US jobs test, euro nurses losses

Asian markets were settling for a subdued session on Friday as investors counted down

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the hours to the US jobs report, while the euro nursed a grudge after the European Central Bank opened the door to more aggressive easing, albeit not just yet.

With virtually no major data of note due in Asia, moves were minor across the region. Australia's share market dipped 0.1%, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan barely budged.

Japan's Nikkei eased 0.2%, though a softer yen provided some support. Wall Street was no livelier, with the Dow ending flat and the S&P 500 off 0.11%.

The March US payrolls report looms as a major test to the argument that the economic weakness of January and February was due to bad weather and the recovery is still on track.

Median forecasts are for a rise of 200,000 in payrolls, though dealers say the whisper number in markets is now something nearer 220,000. A result around there should reassure the optimists and tend to underpin the dollar and stocks.

Perversely a much stronger read might not be so positive for shares since it could reignite speculation of an earlier rate hike from the Federal Reserve.

Likewise, a weak number would likely hurt the dollar and boost Treasuries, but the impact on equities might be tempered by expectations monetary policy would stay loose for longer.

Thursday's US numbers were too mixed to draw any conclusions on the outlook for policy.

The ISM measure of service sector activity bounced to 53.1 in March, and while it was slightly below forecasts it did show a welcome recovery in employment intentions.

However, data also showed an unexpected widening of the US trade deficit which implied net exports were a much bigger drag on the economy last quarter than first thought. Indeed, RBS halved their forecast for growth to just 0.6% annualised.

NOT NOW, BUT MAYBE SOMETIME

In Europe, the ECB took no new action, as was widely expected, but President Mario Draghi was at pains to emphasise the central bank's willingness to act if inflation stayed low.

Crucially, Draghi declared the policy making council was "unanimous" on using unconventional easing if needed. That marked a major change as some countries, notably Germany, have long opposed steps such as quantitative easing.

European bond yields fell as a result and even Greek 30-year bond yields slipped below 6% for the first time since the global financial crisis.

That in turn dragged down the euro to a five-week trough at $1.3698, and early Friday it was hovering at $1.3715.

The setback in the euro saw the dollar index climb to its highest level since Feb 27. The greenback also extended gains on the yen, popping above 104.00 for the first time since Jan 23. It last traded at 103.90 yen.

In commodities markets, spot gold was pinned at $1,284.45 an ounce, and uncomfortably close to the two-month trough of $1,277 touched early this week.

Brent steadied at $106.14 a barrel after a bounce of 1.4% on Thursday, while US crude added 10 cents to $100.39 a barrel.

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