A board in Beijing shows stock prices on the Shanghai Securities Exchange on Wednesday. The Chinese government froze stock markets amid a dramatic correction last month. File Picture: REUTERS
A board in Beijing shows stock prices on the Shanghai Securities Exchange on Wednesday. The Chinese government froze stock markets amid a dramatic correction last month. File Picture: REUTERS

Singapore — Asian stock markets took a breather on Friday from their recent surge as investors booked profits, while the dollar inched up after Thursday’s slide and optimism over possible renewed supply cuts by Opec lifted oil prices.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan pulled back 0.1%, on track to end the week up 1.3%, its fourth consecutive weekly gain.

Overnight, Wall Street lost momentum, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average barely eking out its sixth consecutive record high, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq snapped a seven-day winning streak as investors slowed buying to digest recent gains.

US President Donald Trump’s first solo news conference on Thursday, where he took a combative stance against the news media and deflected questions about contacts between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives, also gave investors pause.

"Apart from a reflection of the slight easing in US market momentum after several strong days, investors are making some greater allowance for rising risk," said Angus Gluskie, MD of White Funds Management in Sydney. "Trump’s erratic performance in the press conference has had a destabilising influence on investor confidence."

The arrest of Samsung Group chief Jay Y Lee over his alleged role in a government corruption scandal was also a source of concern, Gluskie said.

Until Thursday, the index had beaten its previous intraday highs for seven consecutive sessions, and closed at 19-month highs in the past two.

A batch of positive economic data out of Asia this week, driven by improving exports and rising commodity prices, has bolstered shares, although concern lingers that any protectionist threats posed by Trump could reverse the recovery.

On Friday, Singapore revised its fourth-quarter GDP growth sharply higher. Earlier in the week, Taiwan raised its 2017 economic growth target to a three-year high, Indonesia’s January exports rose at the fastest pace in more than five years and China’s January inflation picked up by more than expected to near six-year highs.

Japan’s Nikkei slid 0.6%, set to close 0.7% lower for the week. Australian shares were down 0.1%, shrinking the week’s gains to 1.5%. Chinese shares slipped after earlier touching a near two-month high after the securities regulator said that, starting Friday, it will relax certain rules on stock index futures trading as the government starts to gradually unwind restrictions imposed during the 2015 stock market crash.

The CSI 300 index lost almost 0.1% after gaining as much as 0.5%, on track for a weekly advance of 0.7%. Hong Kong shares dropped 0.3%, but are still poised to close up almost 2% for the week.

The dollar edged up tentatively, but remained near the one-week low hit on Thursday, when it posted its biggest one-day drop in more than two weeks, as uncertainty about the timing of the next Federal Reserve rate hike offset the effect of stronger economic data.

Manufacturing activity in the US mid-Atlantic region surged to its highest in 33 years, housing data indicated a recovery in the sector was on track and weekly jobless claims pointed to a labour market that continues to tighten.

But traders concluded that Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen’s economic testimony before Congress on Wednesday did not offer enough conviction that the central bank would raise rates at its next meeting in March.

The dollar climbed almost 0.2% on Friday to ¥113.42, up by the same percentage for the week. It lost about 0.8% on Thursday.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was up almost 0.1% at 100.50, on track to end the week 0.3% lower. It tumbled 0.7% on Thursday.

The euro was little changed at $1.0671 on Friday, retaining Thursday’s 0.7% gain, and set to end the week 0.3% higher.

The stronger dollar on Friday weighed on gold, which slipped 0.1% to $1,237.20/oz. But the precious metal remains poised for a 0.3% rise for the week.

Oil prices built on Thursday’s gains on positive sentiment over reports that oil cartel Opec may consider extending its oil supply-reduction pact with nonmembers and may even apply deeper cuts if inventories do not fall to a targeted level.

For now, that optimism appears to be winning the tug of war with concern over a rise in US production, but that worry is set to leave oil prices with a weekly loss.

US crude added 0.2% to $53.46 a barrel, but is headed for a decline of 0.7% for the week. Global benchmark Brent crude advanced 0.2% to $55.76, narrowing the week’s loss to 1.7%.


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