Hong Kong: Asian shares edged higher on Thursday with gains led by resource-linked stocks, and oil traded just below the two-year high it hit yesterday on cautious but growing optimism of the health of the world economy.
Wednesday’s data which showed the US economy expanded at a slightly higher-than-expected pace of 2.6% in the third quarter came after recent data such as retail sales indicated economic activity has accelerated in the last few months.
The Asia-ex Japan index for commodity shares as measured by MSCI climbed within sight of a recent 2-1/2 year peak as investors bet that a healing US economy along with the ongoing rise of China and India would continue to fuel demand for commodities amid tight supplies.
The S&P/Goldman commodities index , which has a higher weighting of oil and is therefore more relevant to Asia due to its huge demand, also approached a fresh 26-month peak.
US crude oil for delivery in February traded at $90.68 per barrel at 12:07pm, 12 cents below Wednesday’s peak.
The 30-day correlation between the S&P 500 and the same commodities index has been between a high 0.87 and 0.94, indicating that investors view both asset classes with a similar degree of bullishness.
That brightening growth view has encouraged analysts to revise upwards their projections for the US and pushed Treasury yields up nearly 100 basis points since the start of November,when the Fed launched its second round of quantitative easing.
“The global economy looks a whole lot happier than it did six months ago. Fears of a double-dip have faded,” HSBC economists said in a note while upgrading their 2011 global growth forecasts by nearly half a percentage point to 3.3 percent led by Asia.
That growing optimism was reflected in latest Reuters polls which showed investment houses raising their equity holdings, increasing exposure to high-yield credit and cutting back on government debt.
Asia Pacific stocks as measured by MSCI were slightly higher. Thin year-end liquidity and a holiday in Japan meant activity was limited after investors recently banked some profits when Asian stocks hit 2-1/2 year peaks.
According to Thomson Reuters IBES data, 12-month forward price/earnings multiples for Asia-ex Japan shares was hovering close to its 10-year average of 12.83 - indicating that stocks are fairly priced at current levels.
But in a grim reminder that the euro zone’s debt crisis is far from over, the euro plumbed to a record low versus the Swiss franc overnight, with traders citing some buying interest emerging from players in the region including central banks.
While the 2011 outlook for the euro continues to be bearish, it seems sandwiched between good sovereign demand in the high 1.30’s and decent selling interest on 100 pip rallies.
Ten-year US Treasuries were largely unchanged at 3.35 percent with benchmark yields holding below a seven-month high tested last week. Ten-year Treasury futures expiring in March 2011 were largely unchanged.
The benchmark iTraxx investment grade index was quoted at 102/105 bps, compared with Wednesday’s close of 104 bps. It ended 2009 at a spread of 95.50 bps.
Gold , a big beneficiary this year as a result of its perceived status as a safe haven asset amid Europe’s debt crisis, was largely steady around $1,386 an ounce, just below a historical peak of around $1,430 hit earlier this month.