Asian Shares Down; Apple Results Weigh, China Data Eyed

Asian shares fell on Thursday as investors were cautious ahead of manufacturing data from China, while a sharp slide in Apple Inc shares following its earnings report also capped demand.

* MSCI Asia ex-Japan fall, Nikkei opens down 0.4 pct

* HSBC China PMI in focus

* Apple results hurt regional techs

* Japan trade data confirms deteriorating trade balance

Asian shares fell on Thursday as investors were cautious ahead of manufacturing data from China, while a sharp slide in Apple Inc shares following its earnings report also capped demand.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.2 percent. The pan-Asian index's technology sector led the decline with a 0.6 percent slip.

U.S. and European stocks rose on Wednesday on solid earnings from IBM and Google, but Apple, the world's largest technology company, reported quarterly revenue that slightly missed Wall Street expectations as sales of its flagship iPhone came in below target, sending its shares down more than 10 percent in after-hours trading.

Apple's component suppliers such as Japan's Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd and South Korea's LG Display fell 1.4 percent and 2.4 percent respectively.

Asian markets were also focused on the HSBC China PMI data due at 0145 GMT. Confirmation of a recovery in manufacturing growth in China is likely to improve risk appetite and support wide-ranging markets, from commodities to currencies linked to commodities.

"By most measures, the Chinese economy is on a positive path, and there is no reason to believe that the momentum being seen recently is ready to reverse. Watch for a continuation of improvement for this value today with a result above last month's result of 51.5," said Neal Gilbert, market strategist at GFT Forex, in a note to clients.

Australian shares were choppy ahead of the data from China, Australia's largest export market. South Korean shares slipped 0.6 percent.

The benchmark Nikkei average opened down 0.4 percent after falling to a three-week closing low on Tuesday, as investors booked profits from the market's recent rally that was driven by a weak yen.

Yen buying slowed, although the currency remained steady after the Bank of Japan's latest policy easing steps on Tuesday failed to provide immediate stimulus as expected by some investors. The BOJ pledged to achieve a 2 percent inflation target and promised to start open-ended asset buying from 2014.

The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 88.53 yen while the euro was down 0.2 percent to 117.77 yen. The yen is still down 12 percent from its mid-November levels, when markets began pricing in strong monetary accommodation from the BOJ.

Many market players believe the yen's weakness will persist due to widespread expectations the BOJ will continue pursuing aggressive monetary easing policies to beat the country's stubborn deflation.

"The BOJ decision probably isn't a big deal in a sense that the new BOJ regime after (Governor Masaaki) Shirakawa is expected to do everything and anything available, so after profit taking, it's a good opportunity to re-enter the 'Abe trade' because it's all about expectations," said Shogo Fujita, chief Japanese bond strategist at Bank of America in Tokyo.

The "Abe trade" refers to investors betting on a weakening yen and rising Japanese equities on perception Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pursue aggressive fiscal and monetary policies to pull Japan out of deflation and economic stagnation.

Data on Thursday confirming a deteriorating Japanese trade balance also encouraged yen selling, traders said. Japan logged a record annual trade deficit in 2012.

Earlier on Thursday, South Korea said its economy grew 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 on a quarterly basis. But it fell short of around 0.8 percent growth that the Bank of Korea had projected as recently as in October, underscoring a delayed global recovery due to persistent uncertainties hobbling the major economies.

The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday an unexpectedly stubborn euro zone recession and weakness in Japan will weigh on global economic growth this year before a rebound in 2014.

U.S. crude futures dropped 1.5 percent on Wednesday after a key oil pipeline reduced the volume flowing through it, raising concerns inventories at the Midwest delivery point for the contract might swell further. But Brent crude rose on supportive economic data. U.S. crude was up 0.3 percent at $95.53 a barrel early on Thursday.

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