Asian stocks inch down, US jobs data enthrall

Asian stocks inched down from a three-year high in range-bound trading on Thursday, with investors waiting for the U.S. nonfarm payrolls report to see if the economy is gaining momentum.

Expectations for the U.S. nonfarm payrolls rose on Wednesday after payrolls processor ADP said U.S. private-sector hiring hit a 1-1/2-year high in June.

The upbeat ADP report heightened expectations that the all-important June U.S. nonfarm payrolls due at 1230 GMT would show the American economy picking up speed after a dismal start to the year.

"The market is expecting to see another print north of 200,000 and no doubt sentiment will be riding high following this ADP reading," Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, wrote in a note to clients.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dipped 0.1% but within a stone's throw of Wednesday's three-year peak.

Tokyo's Nikkei shed earlier gains to lose 0.1%, although analysts expected a positive U.S. jobs data reading to make up for the modest loss.

"If the data shows that the U.S. economy is in good health, Japanese shares in the auto and technology sector will likely be bought," said Hikaru Sato, a senior technical analyst at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

Losses by Asian equities were limited after the Dow and the S&P 500 closed overnight at record highs following the ADP data.

A Reuters poll forecast non-farm payroll gains of 212,000.

The data will be released on Thursday because U.S. markets close for Independence Day on Friday, the day the report is usually released.

Investors are keeping an eye on the European Central Bank meeting later on Thursday, although market participants do not expect the ECB to do much after launching a number of monetary easing measures last month.

The focus was on whether the ECB mentions quantitative easing or verbally warns against the strength of the euro, which has crawled higher against the dollar despite last month's easing.

The dollar inched up 0.1% to 101.88 yen , helped after the benchmark U.S. Treasury yield rose to a 1-1/2 week high on the strong ADP report.

The euro stood little-changed at $1.3653 after shedding 0.15% overnight.

The Australian dollar fell 0.7% to $0.9382, on shaky ground after being knocked down from an eight-month peak the previous day on disappointing trade data.

In commodities, improved prospects for the U.S. economy in light of the ADP data lifted copper to a four-month high.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose to as high as $7,145 a tonne, its highest level since late February.

Crude oil extended losses after falling the previous day on encouraging signs of supply from Libya and Iraq.

U.S. light crude fell 0.4% to $104.03 per barrel.


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