TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian stocks mostly fell on Thursday as factory output data suggesting that China’s economy was slowing dampened investor sentiment, while the yen slid to multi-year lows against the dollar and euro.
The sombre mood in equities was expected to carry over into Europe, with spreadbetters forecasting Britain’s FTSE to open down by as much as 0.1 percent and seeing an effectively flat start for Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC.
The China flash HSBC/Markit manufacturing purchasing managers’ index published on Thursday showed factory output contracted in the world’s second-biggest economy for the first time in six months.
“Disinflationary pressures remain strong and the labour market showed further signs of weakening,” said Hongbin Qu, chief China economist at HSBC.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dropped 0.5 percent, briefly touching a one-month low. Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.1 percent.
Tokyo’s Nikkei pared earlier gains to inch up 0.1 percent, with exporters buoyed by the yen’s depreciation to a seven-year low versus the dollar.
The weak yen hurt South Korean automakers by undercutting their price competitiveness. Led by weaker exporters, South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.5 percent.
Australian shares fell 1 percent to give up this year’s gains, feeling the heat from soft Chinese data and decline in prices of iron ore, a major export resource for Australia.
The dollar surged to a new seven-year high of 118.72 yen, bringing it within sight of the 120 level.
The U.S. currency had already risen 1 percent overnight after the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting showed its members were relatively unconcerned about the dollar’s strength.
“The Fed has left the green light shining brightly for further USD gains,” said Alan Ruskin, global head of currency strategy at Deutsche.
The Fed minutes also showed the central bank was still on track to raise interest rates next year, pushing U.S. Treasury yields higher.
The Fed’s hints of confidence about the economy further highlighted the divergence in U.S. monetary policy relative to those of Europe and Japan. The European Central Bank and Bank of Japan are struggling to stave off deflation and shore up their shaky economies.
Beaten down by the dollar, the yen also slid against the euro. The euro traded near a six-year peak of 148.94 yen. The euro fetched $1.2547, off a three-week high of $1.2602 hit overnight.
In commodities, gold remained under pressure. It fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday after a poll showed weaker support among Swiss voters for a referendum that would require the Swiss National Bank (SNB) to boost its gold reserves.
If the “Save our Swiss gold” proposal is approved, the SNB would be banned from selling any of its gold reserves and would have to hold at least 20 percent of its assets in the metal, compared with 7.8 percent last month.
Spot gold was at $1,180.04 an ounce, off the week’s high of $1,204.70 set on Tuesday.
U.S. crude oil futures extended their losses as the bullish dollar and an unexpected rise in U.S. stockpiles countered hopes of a possible OPEC output cut.
U.S. crude was down 5 cents at $74.53 a barrel.
Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in SYDNEY and Jake Spring in BEIJING; Editing by Kim Coghill and Simon Cameron-Moore