Asian stocks. Picture: SUPPLIED
Asian stocks. Picture: SUPPLIED

Singapore — Asian stocks were set to end the week with a bang, lifted by bets on strong US earnings and tax reform, while the euro retreated from a three-week high as jitters returned over French presidential elections on Sunday after a shooting in Paris.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.6%, although it is still poised for a 0.3% weekly loss.

Asian steelmakers mostly clocked gains despite the launch of a trade investigation by the US against China and other exporters of cheap steel into the US, after the move sent their US counterparts surging more than 8% overnight.

Chinese steelmaker Baoshan Iron and Steel added 0.8%, Angang Steel added 0.8%, while Beijing Shougang was steady and Hesteel swung between gains and losses.

Other major steel producers in the region also gained, with Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal jumping 1.35%, and South Korea’s Posco surging 2.1%.

"It’s questionable whether there will be actual curbs or actions after a US probe," said Yi Hyun-soo, a steel analyst at Yuant Securities. "We’ll have to see what kind of action will be taken."

Japan’s Nikkei advanced 0.9%, on track for a weekly gain of 1.4%. Chinese shares added 0.35%, and Hong Kong stocks increased 0.4%. The euro was marginally higher at $1.0716 on Friday. On Thursday, it jumped to $1.0778, its highest level since March 29, and French stocks soared 1.5% after polls showed French centrist Emmanuel Macron easily beating far-right, anti-EU candidate Marine le Pen in the second round on May 7 after both prevail in the first round on Sunday.

But the euro fell back to close only slightly higher after a shooting on the Champs-Elysees boulevard, in which one policeman was killed and two others were wounded. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the group’s Amaq news agency, and the Paris prosecutor said the gunman had been identified.

"Euro bulls will definitely respond to positive news around Macron, but that dissipates as the reality of low turnouts sets in," said Alfonso Esparza, senior currency analyst at Oanda in Toronto.

"Everybody remembers the Brexit polls and even the US election polls. After those misses it is going to take a lot to make the markets trust them again."

French 10-year treasury yields slumped to a three-month low of 0.856% on Thursday, while safe-haven German bund yields jumped to 0.244%, their highest close in two weeks.

Markets are awaiting several economic indicators from Europe later in the session, including eurozone manufacturing and services figures for April and British retail sales for March, to be followed by US manufacturing and services data for April and existing home sales for March.

Wall Street indices closed between 0.75% and 0.9% higher on the rising expectation for first-quarter corporate profits. S&P 500 stock index company earnings now are expected to have gained 11.1% in the first quarter.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would unveil a plan to cut taxes "soon, very soon" and predicted it would be passed by Congress in 2017.

The dollar was slightly lower at ¥109.22, retaining most of Thursday’s 0.4% gain. It is up 0.6% for the week.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was fractionally higher at 99.82, on track to lose 0.7% this week.

In commodities, oil was stronger on Friday following Thursday’s choppy session as a tussle continued between worry over rising US production and optimism over comments from leading Gulf oil producers that an extension to Opec-led supply cuts was likely.

US oil jumped 1% to $50.76 a barrel on Friday, its biggest one-day gain in almost two weeks, shrinking losses for the week to 4.55%. Global benchmark Brent was more muted, rising 0.1% to $53.04, heading for a 4.1% weekly loss.

Gold slipped 0.1% to $1,279.91/oz, as investors remained hesitant ahead of the French election. It is poised for a weekly loss of 0.4%.

Reuters

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