Singapore: Asian stock markets rose to three-month highs on Tuesday, extending a two-week rally fuelled by strong US economic data and a seeming thaw in US-China tensions over the yuan.
The dollar held near 7-month highs against the yen, supported by a surge in US Treasury yields, while the Australian dollar was largely firm ahead of a central bank interest rate decision which looked too close to call.
The MSCI Asia ex-Japan index rose half a percent on signs that a global recovery was gathering strength, with data on Monday showing the US services sector expanded at its fastest pace in four years in March.
The services report and stronger-than-expected pending home sales pushed the Dow Jones Industrial average up 0.4%, just shy of the psychologically important 11,000 point mark.
Taiwan’s stock market was up 1% and Jakarta’s hit a fresh record high.
But some of Asia’s stock markets struggled to maintain momentum after having hit successive highs in the past week. Japan’s Nikkei average fell 0.4% as traders took profits on successive days of 18-month highs, while South Korea’s KOSPI slipped 0.14%.
“We have some short-term technicals suggesting the market is a bit overstretched, but any corrections will be more along the lines of a small breather and there’s no change in the overall trend to buy,” said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at the equity division of Nikko Cordial Securities.
Besides a gradual easing of concerns about European sovereign debt over the past few weeks, investors’ appetite for riskier assets received a boost at the weekend from an announcement that the US Treasury had delayed by at least three months its semi-annual report on currency policy.
That report, due on 15 April, could potentially have named China a currency manipulator, sparking trade frictions and more defiance from the Chinese authorities on the virtually pegged yuan
The yuan firmed further in offshore forward markets on Tuesday, taking the implied appreciation in a year’s time to just above 3%, as markets in Shanghai opened after a long weekend and roused speculation of a currency revaluation, albeit a small one.
The dollar gained 0.3% against a basket of major currencies on Tuesday. It steadied against the yen at ¥94.30. The euro slipped to $1.3470.
The Aussie dollar was slightly lower just below $0.92, weighed down partly by the extreme long positioning in the currency as market players waited to see if the Reserve Bank of Australia would deliver its fifth rate rise since October.
A rate decision was expected at around 0430 GMT.
Asian currencies rose on Monday and continued their gains on Tuesday, expecting that China will unleash the yuan from its peg within the three-month window given by the US authorities.
Analysts expect currencies and stocks in resource-rich Asian economies will benefit if and when a higher yuan makes it cheaper for China to import more.
Non-deliverable dollar/yuan forwards have fallen across the curve this week, with the one-year NDF hitting 6.625 yuan per dollar, its lowest since January.
“China is more or less getting ready for a move in the currency. We think that move will happen in the next 4 to 5 weeks,” said Mirza Baig, currency strategist with Deutsche Bank.
“The kind of move might not be what the market expects. We think China might be moving towards allowing two-way fluctuations in the dollar/china exchange, instead of a purely one-way appreciation.”
Baig said he liked to be long Asian currencies generally because growth in the region was more robust than in the West.
“As Beijing adjusts their policy, we may see more appreciation in other Asian currencies as well,” he said.
US Treasuries rose in Asia with dealers covering short positions in bond futures following a slide on Monday, when benchmark yields touched 4% for the first time in 10 months as the upbeat US data pared safe-haven demand for bonds.
Oil slipped 14 cents to $86.48 per barrel as the dollar strengthened, pulling back from an 18-month high near $87 a day earlier on hopes US economic growth is accelerating.
Oil prices rose more than 8% in the five sessions to Monday, their steepest 5-day winning streak this year and pushing up shares of energy companies worldwide.