Tokyo - Asian shares inched lower on Monday, taking a break from recent gains when investor risk appetite had risen on hopes that Europe's policymakers will take decisive steps to tackle the eurozone's debt crisis in coming weeks.
European stocks were likely to be a tad firmer, after closing at 13-month highs on Friday for their best week in seven years, and US stock futures were barely changed ahead of Wall Street's start. Financial spreadbetters called the main indexes in London, Paris and Frankfurt to open flat to as much as 0.3% higher.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.2%, pulled lower by Chinese shares. The index has risen 1.1% so far in August and is hovering near a three-month high hit earlier in the month.
"You do get to a stage where a lot of investors are a little bit sceptical whether this run will continue," said IG Markets analyst Stan Shamu, of Australia's equities market, which pulled back from a three-month high amid a lack of any clear catalyst to push the market higher.
Hong Kong shares fell 0.8% and Shanghai slid 0.9%, tumbling to its lowest in more than three years, after data over the weekend showed home prices in China rose in July for a second month. It spurred profit taking in the property sector, which has outperformed the broader market in the year to date.
The state-run Shanghai Securities Journal reported on Monday that rising housing prices could lead Beijing to impose more curbs on the sector to control housing inflation, which could include an expansion of the property tax pilot to include more cities and raising the pre-sales requirements.
"Mainland investors are definitely more sensitive to the housing prices, although I think the latest monthly increase is more an effect of interest rate cuts," said Jackson Wong, vice-president for equity sales at Tanrich Securities.
Japan's Nikkei stock average was 0.2% stronger after touching its highest since early May, with a weaker yen supporting exporters.
Both the pan-Asia stock index and the Nikkei hit their 2012 lows in early June, with the recent bouts of rallies inspired by the European Central Bank hinting at a bond-buying programme to contain Spain's surging borrowing costs and backing from Europe's paymaster Germany.
On Friday, a record high for Apple Inc shares boosted US stocks while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index stayed near a four-year high.
"The market is gaining ground on a much more solid footing compared to the first-quarter liquidity rally and the relative stability offers more room for further, sustainable gains," Tong Yang Securities in a note to clients.
In a sign of easing investor fears, the CBOE VIX volatility index, which measures expected volatility in the S&P 500 over the next 30 days, plumbed a five-year low on Friday.
The dollar rose to a fresh five-week high against the yen at ¥79.660.
Asian credit markets steadied, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index nearly flat.
Oil rose, with Brent up 0.4% to $114.20 a barrel and US crude up 0.2% to $96.23 a barrel.
Europe resumes business
With many European policymakers away on summer holidays, markets have enjoyed a respite in recent weeks from negative headlines.
While markets anticipate some conclusive action to calm the eurozone's troubled bond markets to be announced at the European Central Bank's September 6 policy meeting, the focus this week is on a meeting between leaders of Greece and Germany on Friday.
Senior German politicians already stepped up the pressure on Greece to stick to its reforms, and made clear that there was no appetite in the German parliament for a third aid package for Athens.
Recent polls by Reuters showed that growing numbers of economists were concluding Greece has a future inside the currency union rather than outside.
The ECB could outline details of its debt-buying programme next month ease pains for Spain, and its economy minister Luis de Guindos said the ECB must take forceful and unlimited steps to buy sovereign debt to help Madrid cut its refinancing costs.
Germany's weekly Der Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday the ECB is considering setting yield thresholds for any purchases of a struggling eurozone country's bonds.
Platinum stretched its gains into a third session as supply worries lingered after violence at a major mine in South Africa, the world's top platinum producing country, while gold was steady amid continued uncertainty over monetary policy.
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