January 12, 2014 / 11:31 PM / 5 years ago

Asian shares off to slow start, gold hits month high

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian share and bond markets were in a cautious mood on Monday in the wake of surprisingly weak U.S. jobs numbers that revived speculation the Federal Reserve could keep policy loose for longer.

A man walks against strong wind and rain in front of a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo October 2, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Friday’s soft report pulled down bond yields and the dollar, while lifting prices for gold and many commodities. It was also seen as beneficial for some emerging market countries that had been pressured by funds flocking to western assets.

But Wall Street had a more muted reaction to the data, with the Dow .DJI off 0.05 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.23 percent.

Activity in Asia early on Monday was stunted by a holiday in Japan and Australian stocks were little changed . MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was 0.07 percent higher.

The dollar was pinned at 104.06 yen, having shed a full yen on Friday to end at 104.08 in New York. The euro was steady at $1.3668, compared to $1.3590 before the job figures hit dealing screens on Friday.

Payrolls rose just 74,000 in December, the smallest increase in nearly three years and far below the 196,000 forecast.

The jobless rate fell sharply to 6.7 percent though largely because of a fall in the participation rate as people dropped out of the labor force.

Still, the unemployment rate is now very close to the 6.5 percent threshold the Fed had nominated as a level where it might start considering raising interest rates.

More recently the central bank has watered down that threshold, saying it would keep rates near zero well past the time when the jobless rate slips under 6.5 percent.

Markets took the weakness of payrolls growth as adding to the case for keeping rates low for longer and pushed out the expected timing of the first hike. A move to 0.5 percent is now fully priced in by August 2015.

Yields on 10-year Treasury paper were down at 2.85 percent after diving 10 basis points on Friday.

Yet the general assumption among economists was that the jobs report would not sway the Fed from winding down its bond buying campaign.

“Optimism that employment growth was beginning to take off has been dashed, at least for now, but we do not think the data suggest the economy is much weaker than we had thought,” said RBS chief economist Michelle Girard.

“Thus, we do not think the Fed will alter the pace of tapering. We still expect the Fed to announce another $10 billion reduction in the monthly purchase pace at the January meeting.”

There will be plenty of opportunity this week to hear from the Fed itself with seven separate appearances in the diary for officials, including Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday. Fed Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart gets the ball rolling with a speech later on Monday.

Also due this week are figures on U.S. retail sales and on inflation in both the United States and Europe.

In commodity markets, gold extended its rally to a one-month peak at $1,250.06 an ounce having climbed 1.5 percent on Friday.

Oil futures added to their gains with Nymex oil futures up 8 cents at $92.80. Brent crude oil futures rose 24 cents to $107.45 a barrel.

There was little reaction as yet to news of a deal for Iran to freeze parts of its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief that will take effect on January 20. Iran will receive some easing of economic sanctions, including the suspension of restrictions on exports of petrochemicals.

Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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