Asian shares rise after upbeat US trade data

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets rose on Wednesday, taking a lead from Wall Street after another set of data indicating the United States economy is getting back on track.

The upbeat US trade statistics also helped the dollar resume its upward trend against the yen, while investors await the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent policy meeting to see if another cut in its stimulus could be on the cards.

Tokyo rose 1.04 per cent by the break on the back of a weakening yen, Hong Kong added 0.90 per cent, Shanghai gained 0.61 per cent, Seoul advanced 0.11 per cent and Sydney was flat.

After a tentative start to 2014 - caused by profit-taking after healthy gains last year - US shares enjoyed a rally on Tuesday after the Commerce Department said the country's trade deficit shrank in November as exports hit a record high for a second straight month.

The deficit narrowed 12.9 per cent from October, the second month in a row of contraction, to US$34.3 billion (S$43.6 billion), the smallest figure since September 2009. It was also much better than forecasts of US$40.4 billion.

The upbeat numbers added to growing optimism about the world's number one economy and could tilt the Fed to consider further reducing its stimulus programme.

The central bank said at its last meeting that from January it would cut its bond-buying by US$10 billion a month to US$75 billion. Minutes for that gathering are due for release later Wednesday and could give clues about the bank's intentions for the future as the economy gathers pace.

The data "further supports the view that the outlook for the US economy is improving", St George Bank economist Janu Chan told Dow Jones Newswires.

On Wall Street the Dow rose 0.64 per cent, the S&P 500 gained 0.61 per cent and the Nasdaq climbed 0.96 per cent.

The dollar extended its gains on Wednesday after enjoying a pick-up in New York following the trade figures.

The greenback bought 104.84 yen in early Tokyo exchanges, compared with 104.69 yen in New York late Tuesday, although it is still well below the five-year high of 105.41 yen touched at the start of last week.

The euro was at US$1.3630 and 142.90 yen, from US$1.3614 and 142.53 yen.

Oil prices were higher. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for February delivery, was up 29 cents at US$93.96 in early Asian trade while Brent North Sea crude for February sat at US$107.42.

Gold fetched US$1,228.76 at 0230 GMT compared with US$1,239.00 late Tuesday.