Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Asian shares inch up; oil rout pauses

Asian shares edged higher on Wednesday following a modest bounce on Wall Street, while the dollar drifted lower and oil found some relief from recent relentless selling.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked up 0.4 per cent to the highest in almost two weeks. Australia's main index added 0.7 per cent, while South Korea firmed 0.5 per cent.

Already shallow liquidity was drained further by the absence of Tokyo for a holiday, while on Thursday a host of markets globally will be either shut or closing early.

The data cupboard was also bare for Asia, leaving investors waiting on a hefty helping of US figures covering personal incomes and spending, inflation and durable goods orders.

Some of that came early as the Bureau of Economic Analysis inadvertently released the figures on personal consumption. As it was, the monthly increase of 0.3 per cent was in line with forecasts and had no obvious impact on markets in Asia.

Equity investors were encouraged by a second session of gain for Wall Street. The Dow had ended on Tuesday up almost 1 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.88 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.65 per cent.

Economic data showed a slight downward revision in US economic growth to an annualised 2.0 per cent, but that still pipped forecasts and consumer demand held up well.

More bearishly for bonds, the Federal Reserve's preferred measure of core inflation was revised up a tick to 1.4 per cent. That could add to the Fed's confidence that inflation would rise towards 2 per cent over time and thus support its central forecast of 100 basis points of interest rate hikes next year.

Many bond investors have been wagering inflation would stay more subdued and the data triggered a round of profit-taking in Treasuries, particularly in popular curve-flattening trades.

Yields on 10-year and 30-year Treasury paper both rose around 4 basis points.

Fixed-income assets have also been greatly aided by the long slide in oil prices so any hint of a steadying in crude tends to weigh on bonds.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were quoted 24 cents higher at $36.38 a barrel, while Brent gained 22 cents to $36.33 a barrel.

Both saw a slight boost after the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, released data showing an unexpected drop in stockpiles.

In currency markets, the dollar continued its glacial decline as speculators pared long positions in the wake of last week's US rate increase.

The US dollar was steady on the yen at 121.00, having touched a one-week low overnight, while the euro was a shade firmer at $1.0949.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was dead flat at 98.238

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