Hong Kong: Asian shares marched towards new highs for the year on Friday as stronger-than-expected Chinese industrial output data and a rise in US retail sales fuelled hopes that the worst was over for the global economy.
The safe-haven dollar was largely unchanged after Thursday’s falls, but oil prices slipped below $73 following a three-day rally that brought levels to their highest since mid-October.
The strong shift toward riskier assets over the past few months has been anchored by the improving global economic prospects, especially in the United States and China.
The momentum of that shift is slowing though, and wary investors will need more evidence of an actual recovery in the global economy, analysts said.
“The market probably ran a bit too hard over the past two weeks. Consumer sentiment has improved but some of the economic challenges still remain,” said Lucinda Chan, division director with Macquarie Equities in Australia.
The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan rose 0.6% as of 8:10am, just under a 2009 high hit last week that was its best level since late September.
The index has surged some 66 percent from its March bear market low, but struggled over the last two weeks as investors worried demand was still too weak and feared higher borrowing costs for consumers and businesses may hold back a US recovery. Japan’s Nikkei average rose 1% after powering to its highest level since 7 October, taking its gains to more than 40% since early March.
The levels indicate in part a return to normalcy nine months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September sent global financial markets into a nosedive.
Data on Friday showed China’s annual industrial output growth rebounded by a stronger-than-expected 8.9% in May, in line with Chinese media articles on Wednesday that had reported the data ahead of the official release.
The improving prospects for China comes as reports on Thursday showed US retail sales rose in May for the first time in three months, while the number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits last week fell to the lowest level since January.
A fall in benchmark US Treasury yields following a well-received auction of 30-year notes also helped support broader sentiment, easing concerns about rising borrowing costs. Interest rates on many loans and mortgages are benchmarked to government bond yields.
Hong Kong’s main index advanced more than 1%, but gains were smaller in Shanghai, as well as in South Korea and Australia
Among individual gainers, OZ Minerals surged 13.5% in its resumption of trade after shareholders of the debt-laden miner on Thursday approved a sale of most of the company’s assets to China’s state-owned MinMetals for about $1.4 billion.
But some of the gains in resources shares over the past couple of sessions that had fuelled gains in Asian shares faltered along with the decline in oil prices.
Recovery prospects key
With investors increasingly confident that the global economy is at or near a bottom, the debate has shifted toward how any recovery would take shape amid contradictory signals and conflicting forecasts.
The International Monetary Fund has raised its global growth estimates for 2010 to 2.4% from a forecast of 1.9% made in April, a G8 source who has seen the latest figures told Reuters.
The organisation also confirmed its forecast for a 1.3% contraction this year, making it more optimistic than World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who on Thursday said the wrold economy would shrink by nearly 3% this year, worse than its previous estimate.
In yet another view, the International Energy Agency said on Thursday, world oil demand will contract by less than previously expected in 2009.
The oil forecast helped send US crude to an intraday high of $73.23 on Thursday that marked the highest since 21 October, though oil prices had fallen 28 cents to $72.41 by Asian trade on Friday as some investors locked in profits.
Markets are divided over what to make of the recent spurt in oil prices. Some traders believe it reflects stronger business activity, reinforcing the recovery theme, while others worry that a spike in fuel prices could slow or derail a rebound from the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The dollar remained largely flat after its falls on Thursday with the dollar index, a gauge of the greenback’s performance against six other major currencies, unchanged at 79.531.