The headquarters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing, China. Picture: REUTERS
The headquarters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing, China. Picture: REUTERS

Tokyo — Asian stocks resumed their ascent on Friday, supported by US earnings optimism and a rise in oil prices while the euro edged higher as the European Central Bank (ECB) signalled an end to its massive stimulus.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5%, following two consecutive sessions of decline. Japan’s Nikkei dipped 0.1%. China’s custom-cleared trade data showed brisk growth in exports and imports in 2017, underscoring a global economy that continues to hum along nicely.

Wall Street’s three major stock indices hit record highs with earnings for S&P 500 companies expected to have increased by 11.8% in the recently ended quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

MSCI’s broadest gauge of the world’s stock markets also hit a record high on Thursday, having risen in seven of the eight business days so far this year for a total increase of 3.3%. The energy sector led the gains as oil prices rose to three-year highs while interest rate sensitive sectors, such as utilities and real estate companies, underperformed.

US treasury yields fell on Thursday after China disputed a media report that its government officials had recommended the country slow or halt its purchases of US bonds.

China’s currency regulator dismissed the report but said it is diversifying its foreign exchange reserves in order to safeguard their value.

"China is starting to rebuild its forex reserves so it does not make sense economically that China would want to stop buying US treasuries," said Shuji Shirota, head of macro economics strategy group at HSBC in Tokyo.

The 10-year treasuries yield stood at 2.550%, off Wednesday’s 10-month high of 2.597%. On the other hand, the benchmark German 10-year bunds yield hit a five-month high of 0.532% after accounts of the ECB’s December meeting showed it thinks it should revisit its communication stance in early 2018.

With the eurozone seeing its best growth in a decade, the ECB should gradually shift its stance to avoid a more disruptive move later and look at a broader revision of its policy guidance to reduce the focus on bond purchases and raise the emphasis on interest rates, they showed.

"I would imagine the ECB is dying to give it a try to end negative interest rates after September. If that doesn’t go down well in markets, the bank will modify its message but it should want to at least test the water," said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

The ECB has pledged to continue its bond purchase programme at least until September and investors expect any rate increase to take place next year.

The euro’s overnight index swap rates have risen sharply this week as traders price in higher chance of a rate hike early next year.

The euro rose back above $1.2 and last traded at $1.2048, near its three-month high of $1.2089 touched last week.

On the other hand, the dollar was broadly weak after US wholesale price dipped in December from November, reinforcing investors’ expectations of a tame inflation.

The US currency slipped to a six-week low of ¥111.05 on Thursday and last stood at ¥111.21.

Bitcoin flirted with this year’s low, having fallen 11.1% on Thursday after the government in South Korea, a major source of digital currency demand, unveiled plans to ban cryptocurrency trading.

On the Bitstamp Exchange, it traded at $13,431, up 1.6% but not far from Thursday’s low of $12,800, which was its lowest level since December 31.

Oil prices retreated from big gains the previous day but still traded near three-year highs on signs of tightening supply in the US.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures changed hands at $63.58, down 0.3% on the day. The day before they hit its strongest since late 2014 at $64.77 a barrel.

Brent crude futures were little changed for day at $69.28 a barrel after hitting $70.05 a barrel during the previous session, its highest level since November 2014.

Reuters

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