Asia stocks head for 5th week of gains

Asia stocks head for 5th week of gains

Singapore: Asian stocks edged up on Friday, heading for a fifth straight week of rises, with energy stocks firm as oil held above $82 a barrel and financials ticking higher after US talks to force broad banking reform collapsed.

The yen dipped, dented by speculation the Bank of Japan could further ease its monetary policy in the near term, while the dollar was treading water ahead of US retail sales data later in the day.

Asian stocks have been pushing higher since early February, helped by improving sentiment around Greece’s debt woes, hopes for economic recovery and robust fund flows.

Japanese stocks again led the advance, with the Nikkei average rising as much as 1.1% to a seven-week high as investors welcomed the weaker yen.

“The risk of a strong yen appears to be receding as the Bank of Japan is expected to move towards more monetary easing, increasing demand for shares of exporters," said Kenichi Hirano, operating officer at Tachibana Securities.

The dollar has fallen close to 3% against the yen since hitting a three-month low in early March, a boost for companies which have significant offshore earnings such as Honda Motor.

The dollar inched up 0.1% from late US trade to ¥90.62, within sight of a two-week peak of ¥90.83 hit on trading platform EBS on Wednesday.

The euro struck a two-week high at 124.15 yen on EBS in early trade.

Japan equity funds have attracted net inflows for the past 11 straight weeks, the longest streak in almost three years, according to funds flow tracking firm EPFR Global.

MSCI’s index of other Asia Pacific shares was barely moved on the day, rising less than 0.1% and up around 1.9% for the week.

“Broader market sentiment has been improving in recent sessions as key uncertainties such as southern European debt issues have eased," said Han Beom-ho, a market analyst at Shinhan Investment Corporation in South Korea.

Wall Street also provided support, with the S&P 500 Index hitting a 17-month closing high on Thursday.

Banks led a late US rally after bipartisan Senate talks aimed at developing legislation to overhaul US financial regulation collapsed.

S&P stock futures have now risen for 10 straight days for only the second time since 1987 this has happened.

Stock market gains weighed on government debt, with Japanese government bonds falling. The benchmark 10-year yield climbed 2 basis points to 1.335%, its highest in a week.

Commodity markets were little moved on Friday, with oil edging up eight cents to $82.19 and spot gold hovering around $1,110 an ounce.

Crude hit an eight-week high of $83.03 on Wednesday.