Asian shares shaky as U.S. readies China tariffs, euro at two-week low on ECB

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares wobbled on Friday as investors braced for U.S. tariffs against China, while the euro flirted with two-week lows after a cautious European Central Bank indicated it would not raise interest rates for some time.

People walk past an electronic board showing Japan’s Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/FIle Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump has made up his mind to impose “pretty significant” tariffs and will unveil a list targeting $50 billion of Chinese goods on Friday, an administration official said. Beijing has warned that it was ready to respond.

While it is not clear when Trump will activate the measures, rising Sino-U.S. trade tensions will put additional pressure on China’s economy, which is starting to show signs of cooling under the weight of a multi-year crackdown on riskier lending.

The Asia Pacific MSCI index edged down 0.2 percent, with most regional markets shrugging off a strong close on Wall Street. But Japan’s Nikkei average added 0.5 percent.

The euro was headed for its worst weekly loss in 19 months after the ECB signaled on Thursday it will keep interest rates at record lows into at least mid-2019, even as it pledged to end its massive bond purchase scheme by the end of this year.

The common currency shed 1.9 percent after the rate comments in its sharpest daily fall in almost two years.

In early Asian trade on Friday, it eased 0.1 percent lower to $1.15595, its lowest level since May 30.

The dollar index against a basket of six major peers gained about 0.2 percent to a two-week high of 94.973, after rallying more than 1 percent the previous day.

The 10-year German bund yield also fell to 0.424 percent from around 0.50 percent before the ECB.

“The ECB has made it clear that it does not want quick rate hikes, although it now considers progress toward the inflation target as ‘substantial’. Against the background of uncertainties in the world today – such as trade – this makes sense, as does the emphasis on data dependency,” Stefan Kreuzkamp, Chief Investment Officer at DWS.

On Wall Street, two of the three main indexes closed higher, with technology stocks leading the charge on the benchmark S&P 500.

Helping boost U.S. equities was a Commerce Department report showing retail sales rose more than expected in May, the latest indication of an acceleration in economic growth in the second quarter.

While the Fed and the ECB provided much of the week’s central bank fireworks, the Bank of Japan is expected to produce no surprises at the end of a two-day policy meeting on Friday. Virtually no one is forecasting changes to its huge stimulus program given stubbornly weak inflation and recent signs of slowing growth.

Oil markets edged up, despite the strengthening dollar and fears that OPEC countries could decide to increase output at a meeting next week.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were up 0.2 percent at $67.02 per barrel, while Brent was at $76.02.

Many markets in Southeast Asia were closed on Friday for holidays celebrating the end of Ramadan.

(GRAPHIC – MSCI, Nikkei datastream chart:

Reporting by Tomo Uetake; Editing by Kim Coghill

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