Asian shares extend rally, bitcoin marches higher
Sydney — Asian shares rallied for a second session on Friday as economic news from China and Japan beat all expectations and investors marvelled at the meteoric ascent of bitcoin.
Beijing reported exports surged 12.3% in November from a year earlier, more than double the forecast, while imports climbed almost 18%.
Iron ore and copper imports enjoyed a stellar rebound, which could help stem a recent pullback in commodity prices.
Japan’s Nikkei led the way as the yen eased on the dollar. The Nikkei rose 1.1% on top of Thursday’s 1.45% bounce to be almost back where it started the week.
Revised data showed Japan’s economy growing twice as fast as first thought as business spending jumped.
Australian stocks put on 0.3% while MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.7%.
Bidders were encouraged by a steadier performance on Wall Street, where the Dow rose 0.29%. The S&P 500 gained 0.29% and the Nasdaq 0.54%.
Still to come is US nonfarm payrolls, with investors looking for 200,000 new jobs in November and much talk wages might show some welcome strength.
Also on the radar are negotiations between the UK and Ireland on how to run their post-Brexit land border.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was reported to be meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels early on Friday.
Speculation about an agreement led sterling to rebound to $1.3492, having been as low as $1.3320 at one point on Thursday.
It was one of only a few currencies to gain on the dollar, which was otherwise broadly firmer.
The US currency cleared ¥113 to reach ¥113.34, while the euro touched a two-week low at $1.1763. Against a basket of currencies the dollar held firm at 93.848.
Bitcoin crested above $16,666 on the Bitstamp exchange, having doubled in value in just two weeks.
Other exchanges quoted prices as high as $22,000, intensifying the debate about whether it is a bubble about to burst.
It was last quoted at $15,120 in very choppy trade.
The largest US cryptocurrency exchange has been struggling to manage record traffic, with an imminent launch of the first bitcoin futures contract further fuelling investor interest.
Some, however, warned the coming of futures might prove to be the downfall of the digital darling.
"Dragging bitcoin into the futures market poses a risk of big players opening doors to short-selling hell," said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets UK.
"Futures markets make it possible to short in decent size with a lot of liquidity, thus affecting the price discovery in the underlying asset market."
The spectacular rise of the cryptocurrency has stolen some thunder from gold bulls, providing an asset that is also seen as a hedge against inflation and government interference.
Gold steadied at $1,258.10, having finally breached its recent tight trading range to hit a four-month trough at $1,245.60.
"Demand for gold relative to supply has had centuries to reach an equilibrium," noted Alan Ruskin, a macro strategist at Deutsche Bank. "Bitcoin global demand is still finding its place relative to constrained/inelastic supply."
Oil prices had gone the other way as a threatened strike by oil workers in Nigeria forced a bout of short covering.
Brent futures were barely changed at $62.19 a barrel, having climbed 98c overnight. US crude was off 4c at $56.65.