Asia stocks inch higher, sterling and euro steady ahead of Brexit talks

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Asian stocks began the week modestly higher on Monday (June 19) after Wall Street offered little guidance, while sterling and the euro steadied before the start of talks over the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 per cent in early trading. Japan's Nikkei rose 0.6 per cent. Australian shares and South Korea's KOSPI both jumped 0.5 per cent.

Singapore shares opened higher with the benchmark Straits Times Index at 3,246.93 in early trade, up 0.48 per cent, or 15.49 points.

"Investors in the Asia-Pacific region face a mixed and modest outlook to begin the trading week," Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, wrote in a note. "European and US share markets finished with gains for the day and week, but lower commodity prices and a weakening USD may weigh on markets in early trading."

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On Friday, Wall Street ended mixed, with energy names offsetting declines in consumer stocks, which were clobbered by Amazon.com's deal to buy upscale grocer Whole Foods Market. The S&P 500 index closed flat, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended up 0.1 per cent and the Nasdaq lost 0.2 per cent.

Europe, however, had a more upbeat session on Friday, with British, German and French stocks, as well as the broader STOXX Europe 600 all closing higher.

In currencies, sterling was fractionally lower at US$1.2772 from late Friday levels in New York, but was more or less steady after London police reported casualties after a van collided with pedestrians near Finsbury Park station early on Monday. The euro inched up slightly to US$1.1204.

Brexit Secretary David Davis starts negotiations in Brussels on Monday, which will be followed by a Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday where British Prime Minister Theresa May will encounter - but not negotiate with - fellow EU leaders.

Mr Davis's agreement to Monday's agenda led some EU officials to believe that May's government may at last be coming around to Brussels' view of how negotiations should be run.

Polls showing a strong parliamentary majority for French President Emmanuel Macron following Sunday's vote, giving him a powerful mandate to push through his pro-business reforms, also supported the euro.

The US dollar was subdued after US homebuilding fell for a third month in May to the lowest in eight months and a barometer of US consumer sentiment unexpectedly fell in early June, prompting concerns about the Federal Reserve's plans to stick with its monetary policy tightening.

The US dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six global peers, was unchanged at 97.169, failing to make up any of Friday's 0.3 per cent loss.

In commodities, oil futures lingered near six-week lows, as concerns about a supply glut continued to weigh. US crude slipped 0.25 per cent to US$44.65 a barrel, while global benchmark Brent dropped 0.2 per cent to US$47.29.

Gold crept higher but struggled to recover from the 3-1/2-week low touched on Friday. Spot gold was up 0.1 per cent at US$1,255.04 an ounce.