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Shares fall on sluggish U.S. jobs, focus on more data

By Chikako Mogi

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares fell on Monday as a sharp slowdown in U.S. jobs growth raised concerns about the strength of the world's largest economy, making investors cautious ahead of more U.S. data and earnings as well as figures from China due this week.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan fell for a fourth straight session, down 0.3 percent, while Japan's Nikkei average opened down 1.3 percent, after posting its worst weekly loss in eight months last week.

U.S. stock futures fell more than 1 percent and Treasuries prices rallied on Friday after data showed U.S. payrolls grew by 120,000 in March, far below the expected gain of 203,000 jobs and the smallest increase since October. The data kept the door open for the Federal Reserve to provide more monetary support to the fragile economy.

The dollar fell against the euro and the yen on Friday after the U.S. jobs data. The U.S. currency extended its loss against the yen on Monday, easing 0.4 percent to 81.27 yen, but it was up 0.1 percent against the euro at $1.3070.

Crude oil futures fell more than $1 in early Asian trade on Monday, reversing most of the gains made on Thursday. Oil markets were closed on Friday due to Good Friday. Front-month Brent crude fell as low as $122.17 from Thursday's settlement at $123.43 per barrel. U.S. oil slipped as low as $102.03 from Thursday's settlement at $103.31 a barrel.

"Price actions after the jobs data show that markets had been excessively discounting the U.S. economic recovery and must now fill the gap between the reality and prices built on perceived strength of the economy," said Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory Co.

"Markets will continue to focus on global data this week to gauge what price levels would match the real economy. With questions raised about the pace of U.S. growth, resurfacing probability for further Fed stimulus will support risk assets," he said.

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U.S. payroll growth slows: http://link.reuters.com/wej57s

Graphic on US unemployment: http://link.reuters.com/zej57s

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Data due this week from China, the world's second-largest economy after the United States, include first-quarter gross domestic product, inflation figures and trade balance, among others.

"The weak U.S. data has revived hopes that the Fed could again consider additional easing measures, and investors are also looking forward to similar action from China with it expected to post a trade deficit this week," said Gwak Jung-bo, an analyst at Samsung Securities.

U.S. markets will focus on the beginning of the earnings season, as bellwethers J.P. Morgan Chase & Co and Google Inc are expected to report results.

U.S. earnings growth is expected to come in at 3.2 percent for the first quarter, but that figure falls to 1.8 percent year-over-year growth when Apple Inc, the world's biggest company by market value, is excluded.

Barclays Capital analysts said while the nonfarm payrolls data undershot expectations, "job growth in cyclical sectors - manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality - remained relatively strong, suggesting that it is too early to conclude that employment growth has shifted to a lower trend".

The dollar may still be pressured as data on Friday showed currency speculators trimmed their bets in favor of the U.S. dollar in the latest week, while net shorts on the yen shrank slightly from the previous week. To be short a currency is to bet it will decline in value, while being long is a view its value will rise.

(Additional reporting by Joonhee Yu in Seoul; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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