Asian markets were wary on Monday amid doubts whether minutes of the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting will provide clarity on when it might scale back stimulus, leading gold up to a two-month peak and nudging the US dollar lower.
Asian share markets showed no clear trend with a mixture of small losses and gains, while pressure remained on Indian assets after the rupee cratered to record lows despite government efforts to stem the flow.
Yields on 10-year Treasury debt were up near two-year highs at 2.85 % on Monday on persistent speculation the Fed will start tapering next month, and analysts suspect the minutes may not resolve the issue.
"The Fed has made every effort to prepare the market for tapering come the fall and the minutes should continue to suggest just that," said Michael Cloherty, head of US rates strategy at RBC Capital Markets.
"What the minutes are unlikely to include, however, is any clear indication of the exact timing." That would depend on economic data in the lead-up to the Sept. 17-18 meeting.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dipped 0.1 %. It had ended last week with gains of 1.45 %, though that merely recovered ground lost during the previous two weeks.
Tokyo's Nikkei share average inched up 0.1 % on Monday after ending last week flat. Japanese data showed the third-largest trade deficit on record as imports rose even faster than exports.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index firmed 0.2 %, while Korean shares eased 0.3 %. Stocks in Shanghai were off 0.25 %, still consolidating after a trading error last Friday caused wild swings.
Crucial later in the week will be an early reading on Chinese manufacturing from HSBC. Recent data suggested the economy might be stabilising and any improvement in the purchasing manager index will be welcomed by Asian investors.
Emerging currencies continued to struggle after India's rupee touched a record low beyond 62 per dollar, bringing its year-to-date losses to 11 %. The Indonesian rupiah also tumbled to a four-year trough.
The Reserve Bank of India has tried to restrict how much Indian residents and companies can invest abroad, but that only raised fears of outright capital controls that would further undermine the confidence of foreign investors.
The Philippines suspended trading in the stock, foreign currency and debt markets on Monday due to heavy rains and flooding in some parts of Manila.
The US dollar gave up early, modest gains to stand at $1.3333 per euro, against $1.3332 late in New York on Friday. Against the Yen it pulled back to 97.50, while
the dollar index went flat at 81.269.
The dollar has been in gradual decline for the past six weeks so, in part on concerns the prospect of Fed tapering would scare foreign investors out of US bonds.
Figures out last week showed China and Japan -- the two largest foreign holders of US debt -- were at the forefront of a $66 billion exodus from long-term US Treasuries in June, dumping a net $40 billion.
Still, at some point yields should reach levels that are attractive to investors once more.
"We continue to believe that tapering will begin at the September meeting and, hence, support the $, especially against high-yielding currencies," analysts at Barclays said in a note.
They added, however, there was a chance the Fed may have begun discussing lowering its threshold rate for unemployment as a way to convince investors that rates will remain near zero for a long time to come.
"Any discussion in this regard is likely to be viewed as a dovish surprise by the market and lead to a near-term rally in the belly of the Treasury curve," said Barclays. The dollar would also be vulnerable in such an event.
The Dow Jones industrial average dipped on Friday to end the week 2.2 % lower. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
followed to shed 2.1 % for the week.
Europe's broad FTSE Eurofirst 300 index fared better to end last week a fraction firmer. Euro zone bond markets also outperformed their US cousins, thanks in part to expectations the European Central Bank will keep policy super-loose for some time to come despite hints of economic recovery.
Hopes for a pick-up in growth globally has also supported commodities recently, with copper holding at $7,372 a tonne after hitting a 10-week peak of $7,420 on Friday.
Gold and platinum have gained as well, though they could be threatened if the Fed does wind down its stimulus. Gold made a fresh two-month high of $1,384.10 an ounce. Platinum and palladium were also near two-month highs.
Oil futures shrugged aside early losses to sneak higher, having recorded their the biggest weekly percentage gain in six weeks as turmoil in Egypt and Libya stoked worries about supply.
Brent crude futures for October were up 13 cents at $110.53 a barrel. US oil for September added 3 cents to $107.43.