Asian stocks hit 2009 highs, US dollar slips

Asian stocks hit 2009 highs, US dollar slips

Sydney: Asian shares swept to their highest levels in more than a year on Wednesday after upbeat US economic news boosted riskier assets leveraged to global growth, while the dollar slipped to a one-year low.

Commodities also benefited from the wave of optimism, with gold spiking to an 18-month high above $1,020 an ounce and crude oil briefly climbing above $71 a barrel.

Most major Asian stock indexes posted gains of at least a percent in the wake of Tuesday’s strong reading on US retail sales, with exporting countries leading the way.

Hong Kong shares rose 2.6% to a near 13-month closing high, while South Korea’s Kospi climbed 1.8% to a 15-month closing peak and Australia’s resource-packed S&P/ASX 200 index jumped 2.4% to an 11-month high.

“The sentiment is phenomenal. Right across the board it’s green as a vegetable garden in spring," said Michael Heffernan, senior client adviser and strategist, Austock Group in Sydney.

“It’s chalk and cheese compared to a year ago when there was no confidence. Now people are gradually getting confidence back. The sentiment and the ambience of the market is decidedly upbeat," he said.

While Heffernan was referring to the Australian market, his sentiment seemed to be shared across the region.

The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan rose more than 2.5% to levels not seen since last September. The regional benchmark is now up about 56% for the year.

Investors even managed to look past a 1.1% decline in the volatile Shanghai market, virtually the only market in the region to fall on Wednesday.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei added a more modest 0.5%, restrained in part by uncertainty over the economic policies of the new government.

Yukio Hatoyama officially took over as prime minister on Wednesday, ushering in an untested government to deal with a struggling economy and the problems of a fast-ageing population.

Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party thrashed the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an election last month, faces pressure to make good on campaign promises to focus spending on consumers, cut waste and reduce bureaucratic control over policy. The Bank of Japan began a two-day policy meeting, but analysts weren’t holding their breath for the outcome given rates are already near zero and policymakers are reluctant to go any further with exceptional easing measures.


The gains for Asian stocks came courtesy of better US news.

US retail sales jumped 2.7% in August, the fastest growth in 3-years, data showed on Tuesday.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke felt confident enough to declare the US recession “very likely over", though he added that the recovery would be very slow.

The rise in sales added to expectations US economic growth would stage a sizable rebound in the third quarter, thanks in part to businesses rebuilding inventories to meet demand.

That in turn augured well for the exporting nations of Asia and their currencies, especially those of big commodity producers such as Australia.

“As the global recovery continues and risk diversification takes place we could see the U.S. dollar stay under pressure for the next six months," said Amber Rabinov, an economist in foreign exchange and international economics at ANZ in Sydney.

Measured against a basket of major currencies, the dollar slipped to another year low while the euro powered to a new 2009 high.

The dollar also eased to around ¥90.20, partly on talk investors were using the U.S. currency for carry trades.

Until recently, the low-yielding yen was the currency of choice for investors who borrow cheap to buy riskier assets or high-yielding currencies. But that has changed since 3-month US Libor rates fell below Japanese rates.

“We expect the dollar to test its recent lows on the yen, and probably fall as low as ¥87 as talk of it replacing the yen as a funding currency gathers momentum," said Rabinov.