Tokyo: Asian shares inched higher on Wednesday, while the yen was firmer amid conflicting interpretations of Group of Seven (G-7) comments about the yen’s recent weakness.
The MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.4%, pulled higher by Australian shares which advanced 0.8% led by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which posted record first half earnings.
China, Taiwan and Hong Kong markets remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.
US stocks closed modestly higher on Tuesday, putting the Dow within striking distance of an all-time high.
South Korean shares opened 0.4% higher.
Investors were likely to continue taking cues from currency markets before the meeting in Moscow of the Group of 20 (G-20) finance ministers and central bankers on Friday and Saturday, with growing international tensions over exchange rates.
At centre is Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has made it clear that it will push for aggressive policies to beat stubborn deflation through drastic monetary expansion. Anticipation of much bolder Bank of Japan monetary policy has sent the yen into a steady decline, helping boost Japanese stocks to 33-month highs.
“The Japanese market will likely stay sensitive to officials’ comments until the G-20 meeting this weekend. Any comments on foreign exchange could move the market,” said Takuya Takahashi, an analyst at Daiwa Securities.
The Nikkei stock average opened down 0.3%.
The yen rallied on Tuesday, reversing the previous day’s late selloff against the dollar and euro after an official with the G-7 said it is worried about excess moves in the Japanese currency.
G-7 governors and ministers reaffirmed their commitment that fiscal and monetary policies would not be directed at devaluing currencies, a statement meant to soothe nerves that Tokyo was not aiming to guide the yen lower with its aggressive expansion of monetary policy.
Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney said on Tuesday it was critical that no G-7 member use monetary policy to target exchange rates.
“All these comments are merely stating the obvious and are not to be taken in the context of whether they are endorsing a weaker yen or not,” said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo, adding that Carney’s comments best describe the thinking of the G-7.
“What is being said is that monetary policy should be used to achieve domestic objectives and Japan is undertaking deflationary policies, not manipulating currency rates, and the result of that is a weak yen. What is asked for from Japan is to explain its policy clearly at the G-20,” Saito said.
The dollar was down 0.2% to ¥93.31 after marking its highest level since May 2010 of 94.465 on Monday. The euro eased 0.2% to ¥125.49, moving further away from its highest since April 2010 of ¥127.71 touched last week.
The euro steadied around $1.3450, after rising on comments made Tuesday by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who said talk of a currency war was overdone, and that Spain was on the right track toward economic recovery.
Markets were keeping their eye on US President Barack Obama’s state of the union address on Tuesday night US timer for any clues on a deal with Republicans to avert automatic spending cuts due to take effect 1 March. The tone of the speech will also be scrutinized, with any sign of compromise likely to be warmly received.
US crude was up 0.1% to $97.60 a barrel.