Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Asia stocks, dollar up as robust U.S. GDP lifts holiday mood

A man looks at an electronic board displaying Japan's Nikkei average (top C) and the stock price indexes of various countries outside a brokerage in Tokyo September 4, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato


(Reuters) - Asian stocks gained and the dollar stood tall on Wednesday thanks to surprisingly robust U.S. economic growth, helping investors head into the Christmas holidays in a more relaxed mood after the global market turbulence of the past two weeks.

Risk appetite was sharpened by from revised data showing the U.S. economy grew at 5.0 percent in the third quarter, the quickest pace in 11 years and the strongest sign yet that growth has decisively shifted into higher gear.

That drove both the Dow .DJI and the S&P 500 .SPX to record closing highs overnight.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS gained 0.2 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index SSEC bucked the trend and shed 2.6 percent as profit-taking seen earlier in the week appeared to gain momentum. [.SS]

South Korea's Kospi .KS200 was up 0.4 percent and Tokyo's Nikkei .N225 rallied 1.2 percent.

"America's strong economy is pushing the dollar up and the yen down, and that's a big plus for Japanese exporters to the U.S.," said Hiroyuki Nakai, chief strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center.

The strong U.S. GDP prompted markets to bring forward the timing of a likely hike in interest rates by the Federal Reserve, which last week gave an upbeat assessment of the economy.

The bullish outlook pushed up Treasury yields and gave an already strong dollar fresh momentum. The two-year U.S. Treasury yield US2YT=RR rose to a high not seen in almost four years in light of raised interest rate expectations.

The greenback fetched 120.320 yen JPY=, edging closer to a 7-1/2 year peak of 121.86 yen touched earlier this month. The euro sank to a fresh 28-month low of $1.2165 EUR=.

"Risk appetite is returning at a faster pace than expected, thanks to the temporary pull-back in Russia risk and a well-balanced statement from the Fed last week," said Junichi Ishikawa, market analyst at IG Securities in Tokyo.

However, given thin holiday trading conditions and continued instability in crude oil prices, equities and currencies could be volatile, he said.

The Russian ruble plunged to an all-time low in mid-December on the back of lower oil prices and Western sanctions, which make it almost impossible for Russian firms to borrow from the West.

The ruble has since regained some lost territory, shored up by informal capital control measures designed to head off a repeat of the inflation and protests that marked Russia's 1998 financial crisis.

Weighed by industry data that showed a surprise build in domestic stocks, U.S. crude oil dipped 38 cents to $56.74 a barrel CLc1 after gaining $1.86 overnight on the U.S. growth figures. [O/R]

"It's ironic. The U.S. economy is starting to boom and crude oil prices are contracting in the opposite direction," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at Sydney's OptionsXpress.

Gold traded close to a three-week low as the improved sentiment dampened investor appetite for the safe-haven metal. [GOL/]

Spot gold XAU= was up 0.3 percent at $1,179.21 an ounce, within distance of the three-week trough of $1,170.17 hit on Monday.

Reference: Shinichi Saoshiro

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