Asian shares scale 7-week peak on oil bounce, STI up 1.7%

A man walking past a screen showing stock market movements at a securities firm in Fuyang, China, on March 2, 2016.
A man walking past a screen showing stock market movements at a securities firm in Fuyang, China, on March 2, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Asian shares were bound for a third straight session of gains on Thursday (March 3) as upbeat data on US jobs and a rally in a range of commodities whetted risk appetites globally.

Notably, oil shrugged off record high US crude stockpiles as investors chose to focus on an Opec plan to freeze production, keeping alive talk the market had bottomed from a near two-year selloff.

US crude edged up a further 9 cents to US$34.75 a barrel, while Brent also rose 9 cents to US$37.02.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added another 0.9 per cent to reach a seven-week top, having surged 2.6 per cent on Wednesday.

Singapore's Straits Times Index surged 1.69 per cent at 2,773.08 as of 11.11am.

Higher prices for copper and iron ore helped Australian stocks rise 0.8 per cent to their highest in almost two months. Japan's Nikkei firmed 0.8 per cent, on top of a 4-per cent jump the previous session.

"Value is starting to snap back and some sectors that pretty recently were hanging around all-time lows are showing signs of life," said Mr Nicholas Smith, a strategist at CLSA. "The general updraft in oil is helping confidence as well. Investors aren't yet ready to take on a lot of risk, but they are adding to their positions."

Energy and bank stocks had led Wall Street higher on Wednesday, giving the Dow a gain of 0.2 per cent. The S&P 500 added 0.41 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.29 per cent.

The calmer mood showed in the CBOE Volatility index, a measure of investor anxiety, which closed at its lowest level so far this year.

Sentiment was underpinned by a report showing US private sector jobs rose a surprisingly strong 214,000 in February, adding to speculation Friday's payrolls report would also be upbeat.

Yet fissures remain in the global outlook, argued Mr Justin Fabo, a senior economist at Australia and New Zealand Bank.

Despite the latest bounce in commodities, prices were still very weak and a lot of money had been borrowed on the assumption that they would not be.

"China has huge potential to roil markets as the nation navigates a difficult structural transition," he said. "Asian trade, traditionally a bellwether for global growth, is in recession.

"Risk is being repriced, and the ability of central banks to keep pulling rabbits out of the hat is now pretty limited."

Indeed, there are plenty of worries the European Central Bank could disappoint expectations for aggressive easing when it meets next week - just as it did in December.

Back then markets reacted violently when the central bank's stimulus steps stopped far short of what had been priced in, leading the euro to rocket 3 per cent in just one session.

Fearing a re-run, investors are holding back on shorting the euro, keeping it at US$1.0871 and off a one-month trough of US$1.0825. The US dollar also faded a little on the yen to 113.70, after losing grip of a two-week high at 114.56.

Instead, the limelight was stolen by the Australian dollar which neared its 2016 peak in the wake of surprisingly strong domestic economic data.

The Australian dollar was taking in the view at US$0.7306, up 0.3 per cent on the day following a 1.7 per cent rally on Wednesday.

Investors warmed to the currency after data showed fourth-quarter economic growth unexpectedly picked up to a healthy 3.0 per cent annual clip.