Asian stocks steady, dollar wobbles near 6-week lows

February 17, 2014

Tokyo  (Feb 18)   A string of disappointing U.S. data pinned the dollar near six-week lows against a basket of currencies on Tuesday, while Asian share markets held steady after notching up solid gains in recent sessions.

The dollar index stood at 80.114 near its lowest level so far this year while gold and silver stood near 3 1/2-month highs on the back of the dollar's weakness.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was barely changed at 459.77 after a U.S. market holiday on Monday, though it stood near its Jan. 13 peak of 460.93 after posting solid gains in the past 10 days.

Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.1 percent thanks to a pullback in the yen, building on a 0.6 percent rise the previous day. A weaker yen sharpens Japanese exporters' competitiveness overseas and boosts their dollar earnings when repatriated.

While easing concerns over emerging market economies have underpinned risk assets in the past week, some analysts cautioned that share markets may be getting ahead of themselves in assessing the economic outlook.

"There is a bit of a fault line between the currency market and the stock market at the moment. U.S. shares are riding on optimistic views on the U.S. economy but the currency market is viewing the U.S. economic fundamentals less favourably," said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

A run of weak U.S. data, including an unexpected fall in January manufacturing output on Friday and an underwhelming report on payrolls in the last two months, has put the dollar under pressure.

But Wall Street shares have rallied in recent sessions, with the S&P 500 index edging near all-time high hit last month, in part on the view that weak figures is an aberration stemming from a bad weather.

While some investors could be speculating that the Fed may slow its policy tightening, most expect it is likely to stick to the current pace of reducing its bond-buying by $10 billion at each of its policy meetings.

The market may get more clarity on Wednesday when the Fed publishes the minutes of its last policy meeting on Jan. 28-29.

As the dollar lost altitude, the euro held firm at $1.3710 , having hit a three-week high of $1.37245 on Monday.

The single currency was also helped by an improving mood after Italian centre-left leader Matteo Renzi, who has pledged to deliver more ambitious reforms, received a mandate to form a new government.

That helped to push Italian debt yields to eight-year lows.

The dollar fetched 102.10 yen after having fallen to a one-week low of 101.38 yen on Monday.

The Bank of Japan is widely expected to keep its policy unchanged on Tuesday. Among many issues on the radar, traders will be focusing on what Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will say about emerging economies, Japan's soft fourth quarter growth figures and the country's inflation outlook at his news conference.

Gold and silver held near their 3 1/2-month peaks hit on Monday, with gold trading at $1,328.30 per once and silver at $21.64.

(Source:  ShareNet - South Africa)

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