China concerns hit commodities, little collateral damage as yet
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets were set for another tense session on Tuesday as worries about China's economy continue to reverberate, taking a particularly hard toll on commodity prices.
February's shock fall in exports from the Asian behemoth has cast a shadow over the global outlook, even as analysts blamed much of the drop on the Lunar New Year holidays.
Oil and industrial commodities bore the brunt of the sell-off. Copper futures shed almost 2 percent on Monday, while spot prices for iron ore tumbled over 8 percent.
Brent crude lost 92 cents to $108.08, while U.S. oil extended its decline to $100.94 a barrel.
Investors will be nervously watching Chinese money markets and the yuan for any evidence the People's Bank of China (PBOC) is engineering an easing in monetary conditions after it forced the currency sharply lower on Monday.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine added to investor unease. In Crimea, unidentified armed men fired in the air as they moved into a Ukrainian naval post. Russia said the United States had spurned an invitation to hold new talks on resolving the crisis.
Yet, after an initial spill, Wall Street did manage to pare losses. The Dow Jones industrial average ended off 0.21 percent, while the S&P 500 lost just 0.05 percent.
That resilience might help steady nerves in Asia, and it was notable that Nikkei futures were only down slightly.
In early trade, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was holding steady, after shedding 1.3 percent on Monday.
Other popular indicators of risk were also muted. The stock market's fear gauge, the CBOE Volatility Index, ended little changed after an early spike, while U.S. 10-year Treasury yields eased a single basis point to 2.78 percent.
Forex markets were surprisingly calm with the U.S. dollar barely changed against a basket of major currencies.
Even currencies from major resource exporters incurred only modest losses. The Australian dollar, often used as a liquid proxy for Chinese risk, came off half a U.S. cent but found solid support around $0.9025.
The euro held steady at $1.3876, as was the dollar at 103.26 yen.
Later on Tuesday, the Bank of Japan is expected to reaffirm its commitment to massive monetary stimulus. Nothing new is expected at the policy meeting, but markets suspect the BOJ could be pushed into action once a sales tax increase goes through in April.
The Japanese economy grew at a pedestrian 0.7 percent annualised pace in the last quarter of 2013 as net exports proved a major drag, intensifying pressure for fresh action form the central bank.
The BOJ's decision is due anytime after 0300 GMT, and Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will hold a news conference afterward.
(Editing by John Mair)
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