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Morning bid: Markets under pressure, China house prices eyed

A passerby walks past an electric screen displaying a graph showing today's Japan's Nikkei share average movements in Tokyo

By Jamie McGeever

(Reuters) - A look at the day ahead in Asian markets.

Asian markets are likely to come under downward pressure at the open on Friday, following the sharp rise in U.S. bond yields and the dollar the previous day on the back of yet another hotter-than-expected U.S. inflation report.

Wall Street's late slide on Thursday - the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both shed 0.3% - could tempt investors to play safe ahead of the weekend and steer Asian equities away from what would be their seventh weekly rise in eight.

The MSCI Asia ex-Japan index would need to avoid falling 0.5% or more to notch a weekly gain. Japan's Nikkei 225, on the other hand, goes into Friday's session down more than 2% on the week and on track for its worst week this year.

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The pullback in Japanese stocks should come as little surprise - the Nikkei hit a record high above 40,000 points last week and the Bank of Japan next week could deliver its first interest rate hike in 17 years.

The Asia and Pacific economic calendar on Friday includes South Korean trade figures and import and export prices, New Zealand's manufacturing PMI for February, and Japan's 'tertiary index' gauge of conditions in the services sector.

Japan watchers are also awaiting the findings of a preliminary survey of national wage round talks from labor union umbrella group Rengo. Sources have told Reuters that signs of strong wage growth could be the switch that flips the Bank of Japan's into raising rates next week.

Japanese news agency Jiji reported on Thursday that the BOJ has started to make arrangements to end its negative interest rate policy next week.

The main indicator though will probably be Chinese house prices for the month of February. They fell at an annual rate of 0.7% in January, the biggest decline in almost a year, and have been declining almost every month since April 2022.

A turnaround in the embattled property sector is needed for the broader economy to get going again, and to convince investors that the market and economic nadir has passed.

Curiously, China's economic surprises index this week rose to its highest level since October, begging the question: strong data, or lousy expectations to begin with? Maybe a bit of both.

A reasonably bullish case, however, could be made for Asian risk assets on Friday. Even though the U.S. 10-year yield and dollar had their biggest rises in a month and Fed rate cut expectations were pared back, Wall Street only fell 0.3%.

Chipmakers and tech stocks across the region could also get a boost from Apple supplier Foxconn saying on Thursday that it expects a significant rise in revenue driven by booming demand for artificial intelligence servers.

Here are key developments that could provide more direction to markets on Friday:

- China house prices (February)

- Japan tertiary index (January)

- New Zealand manufacturing PMI (February)

(By Jamie McGeever)