By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets got off to a skittish start on Thursday following a late dip on Wall Street amid talk of tougher sanctions on Russia and a drop in technology stocks.
Yet speculation about fresh policy stimulus in Europe kept markets there firm, while pushing down bond yields and the euro.
Rumours of stimulus steps in China have also been supporting Asian stocks in recent sessions, though that might start to fade if no concrete news emerges soon.
The early action was cautious with the Australian market off 0.9 percent and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down 0.24 percent. Nikkei futures were pointing to a modestly lower start.
Some blamed Wall Street's slip on news the United States and the European Union had agreed to work together to prepare possible tougher economic sanctions in response to Russia's behaviour in Ukraine.
The Dow ended down 0.60 percent, while the S&P 500 fell 0.70 percent. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index lost 1.43 percent to a low not seen in six weeks.
Earlier, European stocks had gained for a second day and the MSCI emerging equities index added 1 percent.
The U.S. losses were led by technology stocks, with Facebook off almost 7 percent a day after announcing a $2 billion takeover of Oculus VR Inc, a maker of virtual-reality glasses for gaming.
Shares in Citigroup Inc fell after hours when the Federal Reserve rejected its plans to buy back $6.4 billion of stock and boost its dividends, citing deficiencies in the bank's ability to plan for stressful situations.
Others blocked by the Fed in their plans for higher dividends or share buy backs included the U.S. units of HSBC, RBS and Santander.
In debt markets, the talk was all about an auction of new U.S. five-year notes that drew such stellar demand from investors that it left dealers with the lowest share of an offer on record.
That drove five-year yields down a sharp 7 basis points to 1.74 percent, unwinding some of the rise seen since Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen last week spooked markets with talk of rate hikes next year.
Yields in Europe have been falling even more as policymakers there hint at radical stimulus measures. Some of the European Central Bank's most conservative policymakers have said the bank could adopt more unconventional measures to tackle a surging euro and ward off deflation.
As a result the premium that U.S. two-year notes offer over German debt hit a 15-month high on Wednesday, making the euro relatively less attractive against the dollar.
That saw the single currency ease to $1.3783, well off the week's peak of $1.3875. The biggest loss came against the Australian dollar where the euro sank 0.9 percent to a four-month trough at A$1.4910.
The U.S. dollar was a touch softer against the yen at 102.02, but steady against a basket of major currencies at 80.022.
In precious metals trading, spot gold was subdued at $1,304.19 an ounce after plumbing a 5-week bottom of $1,298.29.
U.S. crude oil was holding at $100.19 a barrel having gained a dollar on Wednesday as inventories at the future's delivery point dropped for the eighth straight week.
Brent for May delivery was up a cent at $107.00 a barrel.
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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