Asian stocks got off to a steady start on Monday as soft U.S. data was partially offset by a weekend interest rate cut by China, while the dollar hit a five-week high against the euro. China on Saturday stepped up its easing tempo and cut its lending and deposit rates as the world's second largest economy tries to ward off deflation. "News of China’ rate cut should help buyer mood this morning, compensating for a weak lead from the US market," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. In some senses this rate cut is a technical response to the fact that lower inflation is making real borrowing costs more expensive in China," Spooner said.
Activity in China's factory sector edged up to a seven-month high in February but export orders shrank and deflationary pressures persisted, a private business survey showed on Monday, underlying economic fragility that may need more policy support. China's central bank cut interest rates on Saturday, just days before the annual meeting of the country's parliament, in the latest effort to support the world's second-largest economy as its momentum slows. The new export orders sub-index dipped to 48.5 in February, the sharpest contraction in a year, while both input and output prices fell for a seventh month. "China's manufacturing sector saw an improvement in overall operating conditions in February, with companies registering the strongest expansion of output since last summer while total new business also rose at a faster rate," said Annabel Fiddes, an economist at Markit.
The Chinese central bank cut benchmark lending and deposit rates a day before it released official data that showed a second consecutive month of shrinking manufacturing activity for February. Brent crude (LCOc1) was down 52 cents at $62.06 a barrel by 0044 GMT after posting an 18-percent gain in February, the largest monthly rise since May 2009. Iraq's Oil Minister Adel Abdel Mehdi said on Sunday world oil prices were gradually rebounding and he expected to see a barrel of crude selling at around $65.