A man looks at an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A man looks at an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Stocks climb despite rise in U.S. inflation; dollar on defensive

Thu, Feb. 15, 2018
TOKYO - 15 February 2018: Asian stocks rose on Thursday after Wall Street brushed aside strong U.S. inflation data and surged, in a move that also saw the dollar pinned to two-week lows even as Treasury yields jumped in anticipation of more rapid U.S. interest rate hikes.

Spreadbetters expected European stocks to also open higher, with Britain’s FTSE seen rising 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX gaining 1 percent and France’s CAC advancing 0.8 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 1.3 percent.

Australian stocks climbed 1.15 percent and South Korea’s KOSPI added 1.1 percent. Japan’s Nikkei advanced 1.5 percent following three successive days of losses that took it to a four-month low the previous day.

U.S. shares surged on Wednesday, with the Dow up 1 percent and the S&P 500 climbing 1.34 percent, as investors shrugged off the stronger-than-expected inflation data and snapped up shares of Facebook, Amazon.com and Apple. [.N]

S&P mini futures rose 0.4 percent on Thursday.

The VIX index - Wall Street’s “fear gauge” and a measure of market volatility - has declined below 20, less than half the 50-point peak touched last week.

U.S. consumer prices rose slightly more than forecast in January as Americans paid more for gasoline, rental accommodation and healthcare, further raising inflation concerns and worries that the Federal Reserve may hike interest rates more than earlier expected.

That drove U.S. Treasury yields on most maturities higher, with those on benchmark 10-year notes hitting a four-year high of 2.928 percent.

Other data on Wednesday showed U.S. retail sales fell 0.3 percent in January to mark the biggest decline in 11 months. This was well below forecasts for an increase of 0.2 percent, suggesting slower growth could accompany higher inflation.

“The combination of stellar U.S. CPI and weak retail sales data leaves investors in a precarious situation,” wrote strategists at CitiFX.

“Strong price data presents hawkish risks for the Fed’s dots at the March meeting. Three dots have been the baseline and now four seems a greater risk. Meanwhile, retail sales results have caused a downgrade of GDP estimates across the Street.”

Dot plots represent Fed officials’ expectations for interest rate hikes.

The dollar index against a basket of currencies slipped 0.3 percent to 88.879 after losing more than 0.6 percent overnight despite the strong inflation number.

The recovery in broader risk sentiment was seen weighing on the dollar, which had gained during the market turmoil earlier in the month.

The U.S. currency has been weighed down by a variety of factors this year, including concerns that Washington might pursue a weak dollar strategy and the perceived erosion of its yield advantage as other countries start to scale back their easier monetary policy. Concerns about the growing U.S. fiscal deficit have also intensified.

The dollar stretched overnight losses against the Japanese yen to touch a 15-month low of 106.300, having declined more than 2 percent so far this week, causing the Nikkei to underperform its global peers.

“Japanese stocks could act as drag to their regional counterparts if the stronger yen hampers its performance. In that respect the strong yen could be seen as a factor preventing the stabilization in global markets,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

The euro extended gains to reach a 10-day high of $1.2473 after surging 0.8 percent the previous day.

The South African rand traded at 11.73 per dollar and near a 2-1/2-year high of 11.66 set overnight after the country’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it would proceed with a vote to remove President Jacob Zuma from office.

The Australian dollar added to the previous day’s rally and reached a 10-day top of $0.7946.

In commodities, Brent crude futures were up 1.1 percent at $65.06 per barrel after prices surged the previous day as U.S. crude stocks rose less than expected and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said major oil producers would prefer tighter markets than end supply cuts too early.

Crude also benefited from the dollar’s weakness. Oil tends to move inversely to the dollar, and has also of late been trading in tandem with stocks.

Spot gold rose to a 10-day top of $7,195 per ounce and on track for a weekly gain of more than 6 percent, supported by the sagging dollar and as the metal drew demand as a hedge against inflation following the rise in U.S. inflation.
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