GLOBAL MARKETS Asian Shares, Dollar Up On Fed's Optimism; Earnings In Focus

Asian stocks tiptoed higher on Thursday and the dollar consolidated recent gains after the US Federal Reserve painted a relatively bright picture of the world's biggest economy, but a deepening sell-off in commodities kept gains in check.

Prospects of stronger US growth in coming months lifted Asian stocks in early trade, with Japan's Nikkei up 1.2 per cent and Australian shares adding 0.7 per cent. But South Korean shares fell 0.7 per cent.

A dollar-denominated index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.4 per cent after Chinese stocks had a quiet opening.

Asia's disappointing trade performance

Gains were muted before the earnings season kicks off in full throttle next week, when companies are broadly expected to post disappointing results on the back of weak economic data in recent months, particularly for trade.

Gavekal strategists noted that Asia's trade performance had been disappointing in recent months. After a two-year post-crisis rebound in 2010-2011, export growth in the region has slowed to an annual average of 7.5 per cent in US dollar terms and 6 per cent in volume terms this year compared to US dollar growth rates of 30 per cent in the years before the crisis.

"The markets still think that the world's economy remains fragile, given a fall in Chinese shares and commodity prices. The Fed surely doesn't want to screw up its exit from zero rates by hastily moving and hitting already fragile commodities market and the world economy," said Tohru Yamamoto, chief fixed income strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Subdued external demand is expected to weigh on corporate earnings, with CLSA strategists expecting first-half earnings growth at Hong Kong and Chinese companies to be weak and guidance for the third quarter unlikely to be better.

Chinese equities are already a third lower than their June highs.

US Fed's optimism

On Wall Street, US stocks rose broadly on the Fed's optimism and strong corporate earnings, with the S&P 500 rising 0.7 per cent to 2,108.57.

After a two-day policy meeting, Fed officials said they felt the economy had overcome a first-quarter slowdown and was "expanding moderately", leaving the door open for an interest rate increase in coming months.

Commodities extended their decline, with copper, considered a bellwether for global economic activity, trading near a six-year low at $5,322 a tonne.

The broad Thomson Reuters CRB commodities index also hit a six-year low.

Oil prices, smarting from supply concerns due to rising US shale oil output and an easing of sanction on Iran, rose after weekly data showed an unexpectedly large drawdown in US. crude inventories.

Front-month Brent crude futures rose overnight to settle at $53.38 a barrel, recovering from Tuesday's six-month low of $52.28.

In the currency market, the dollar index rose to 97.160, having rebounded from Monday's two-week low of 96.288.

The euro fell 0.2 per cent to $1.0964, near its lowest level of the week. In recent weeks, the euro has tended to fall when risk appetite is strong as it is used as a funding currency for investment in risk assets.

The dollar rose about 0.1 per cent in early Asian trade to 124.075 yen, hitting its highest level so far this week.

Source :!

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