Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Asian markets up on US hopes, weak yen helps Tokyo

HONG KONG: Asian markets rose on Wednesday with traders confident the United States will avoid a fiscal cliff and Greece will get its much-needed bailout, while Tokyo was boosted by the weak yen.

The Japanese currency continued its fall against the dollar and the euro on expectations of further central bank easing, given added impetus by data showing Tokyo posted its worst October trade figures in more than 30 years.

Tokyo rose 0.96 per cent, Hong Kong added 0.66 per cent and Seoul was up 0.30 per cent but Sydney was flat. Shanghai was up 0.21 per cent.

Stocks have been buoyed this week by hopes for an agreement in Washington on avoiding the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to come into effect on January 1.

If they are allowed to come in they will likely tip the US into recession, a danger reiterated by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke on Tuesday.

Eyes are currently on Europe, where eurozone finance chiefs are holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to give Greece the next trance of much-needed bailout cash to help it avoid a default.

"Greece has delivered (on reform)," said Jean-Claude Juncker, who presides over the Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the single currency. "(There are thus) good chances of an agreement."

The expectations of fresh cash for Greece lifted the euro against the yen, while it is also holding on to recent advances on the dollar.

The euro bought $1.2810 and 104.95 yen in early Asian trade, compared with $1.2818 and 104.70 yen in New York late Tuesday.

The dollar firmed to 81.93 yen from 81.67 yen in US trade and is sitting at seven-month highs.

Dealers continued to move out of the yen after the Bank of Japan held off further monetary easing on Tuesday but signalled fresh action could be in the pipeline after saying the economy remained weak.

The currency has weakened since last week, when the man likely to become prime minister after next month's general election said he would push for unlimited loosening monetary policy by the central bank.

There was more gloom for the Japanese economy on Wednesday as finance ministry data showed October's trade deficit nearly doubled to 549 billion yen ($6.7 billion) from a year ago, coming on top of weakening factory output.

On Wall Street, the three main indexes all ended flat on weak corporate news.

However, there was support from the Commerce Department, which said home construction rose again in October following September's strong surge, a further sign of recovery in the crucial housing market.

Housing starts rose 3.6 per cent from October, surprising analysts who had expected a fall after September's jump.

Oil prices climbed, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in January, rising 55 cents to $87.30 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for January delivery adding 63 cents to $110.46.

Gold was at $1,727.60 at 0230 GMT compared with $1,733.45 late Tuesday.

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