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Asian stocks near three-week high, eyes on upcoming U.S.-Korea summit

Stock MarketsMay 11, 2018 03:11AM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A videographer films an electronic board showing the Japan's Nikkei average and related indexes at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian shares rallied on Friday as investors' appetite for riskier assets got a boost from soft U.S. inflation, which helped alleviate worries of faster rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

Markets were also cheered by a further easing in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 for talks on its nuclear weapons program.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.7 percent to near three-week highs with broad-based gains across all sectors. Japan's Nikkei climbed 1.2 percent.

But spreadbetters indicated the upbeat mood was unlikely to last, with FTSE futures down a bit and E-Minis for the S&P500 a touch softer.

Most emerging Asian currencies were buoyant as the dollar eased after Thursday's slower-than-expected April consumer price gain.

The soft figures followed payrolls numbers last week which pointed to sluggish wage growth.

The two data sets meant "inflation may be rising but not so rapidly that the Fed would have to take aggressive actions to keep the economy from overheating," said James McGlew, analyst at Perth-based stock broker Argonaut.

A recent shakeout in global markets, partly stoked by Sino-U.S. trade tensions, has also eased, while money managers expect the relatively low global rates that have fueled a 'Goldilocks' boom in stock markets will remain in place for some time.

"While inflation is continuing to trend up, it's only happening slowly. So Goldilocks continues," Shane Oliver, chief investment manager at AMP, said in a note.

Indeed, a key measure of expected market swings, the Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, has fallen very close to levels last seen in early January when stock markets were buoyant.

GEOPOLITICS

While North Korea has come off the boil for now, geopolitical concerns still remain as the U.S. and China continue skirmishing over trade and tensions rise in the Middle East.

"Trump still needs President Xi (Jinping) and China's support in dealing with North Korea and this will be his priority in the short term," economists at JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) wrote in a note to clients.

"Once the meeting is finished, trade may return to the fore."

The United States and China have locked horns over import tariffs after Trump announced hefty duties on Chinese goods, provoking a tit-for-tat response from Beijing.

"It is notable that in line with this view, the U.S. has extended hearings over China tariffs, drawing out the process," they added.

U.S. and Chinese officials will meet in Washington for a second round of trade talks next week, after apparently making little progress in discussions in Beijing earlier this month.

Currency markets were largely muted during Asian trading.

The dollar index was up 0.2 percent after falling the most since late March on Thursday.

Investors trimmed their expectations for four Fed rate hikes after inflation data showed U.S. price pressures remained weak. The Fed has already raised rates once this year and is widely expected to go two more times in 2018.

The British pound inched above a four-month low of $1.3457 touched on Thursday after the BoE held key borrowing costs. It was last at $1.3505.

The recent slowing in price growth in major economies has boosted expectations that most central banks except the Fed will continue their massive bond-buying programs to keep policy stimulatory.

The euro was a tad lower at $1.1893. The Japanese yen gained mildly to be last at 109.29 per dollar.

Malaysian markets were closed Friday but its newly appointed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad emerged with key election pledges including repealing an unpopular goods and services tax and restoring a petrol subsidy.

Ratings agency Moody's said some campaign promises would be "credit negative" for Malaysia. 

Such concerns pushed up the cost of insuring against a Malaysia default, with the country's 5-year credit default swap price at its highest since early June 2017 at 95.090 basis points.

In commodities markets, spot gold slipped 0.1 percent to $1,319.33 an ounce.

Oil prices eased but stayed near multi-year peaks amid supply concerns after Trump withdrew from an Iranian nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions.

U.S. crude futures were last down 10 cents at $71.26 a barrel. Brent crude futures fell 18 cents to $77.29 a barrel, after hitting $78 earlier in the day, their highest since November 2014.

Asian stocks near three-week high, eyes on upcoming U.S.-Korea summit
 

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