By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets got off to a subdued start on Tuesday amid a dearth of major data, with the only action being a spike in the New Zealand dollar on talk interest rates could rise there as early as next week.
Leads were few and far between with most European share markets marginally lower and Wall Street shut for a holiday. That left MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> down a bare 0.07 percent, while Australia's main index <.AXJO> eased 0.3 percent.
Investors had a wary eye on Chinese money markets after the People's Bank of China (PBOC) announced a surprise injection of funds on Monday aimed at curbing a recent spike in rates.
The central bank also broke tradition by saying it would add more money at its regular operations on Tuesday, an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat of the severe cash crunch that roiled markets in June.
The early mover in Asia was the New Zealand dollar which surged half a U.S. cent to $0.8329 after inflation data came in higher than expected and fuelled already intense speculation of a rate rise.
Annual inflation ticked up to 1.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, the fastest pace in 21 months.
The country of 4.5 million is undergoing an economic revival thanks in large part to China's insatiable demand for its dairy exports, and particularly baby formula.
That has greatly lessened the need for rates to remain at record lows of 2.5 percent and led markets to price in a series of hikes this year.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand next meets on January 30 and. if it does not move then, an increase is considered virtually certain for March.
Other major currencies were locked in tight ranges. Against the yen, the dollar was steady at 104.15, as was the euro at 141.22.
Against the greenback, the single currency pared some of its recent losses to stand at $1.3555, up from a two-month trough of $1.3508.
Investors will be watching liquidity operations by the European Central Bank later Tuesday to see if they act to correct a recent sharp rise in money rates, a tightening of conditions that could threaten the region's recovery.
Attention will also be on Turkey's central bank as a crumbling currency piles pressure on for a hike in interest rates at its policy meeting on Tuesday.
The lira has hit a string of record lows while the cost of insuring Turkish debt spiked to 18-month highs as a government corruption scandal undermined investor confidence.
In commodity markets, gold steadied at $1,254.98 an ounce, after hitting its highest level since mid December at $1,259.85 on Monday.
Chinese gold imports, the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous year for bullion in 2013, look set to fall from last year's record levels, adding to pressure on gold as analysts forecast a price decline for a second year.
Platinum rose to their highest in nearly three months at $1,469.50 an ounce after the main trade union for South African platinum miners said workers at the world's top three producers would go on strike this week.
Brent crude oil for March delivery eased 15 cents to $106.33 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell 59 cents to
(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)
- Budget, Tax & Economy