Asian shares sluggish as growth concerns trump Wall Street

A man walking past an electronic board showing the stock market indices of various countries outside a brokerage in Tokyo on Jan 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
A man walking past an electronic board showing the stock market indices of various countries outside a brokerage in Tokyo on Jan 26, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares got off to a lacklustre start on Friday, as a late earnings-led surge on Wall Street was tempered by ongoing concerns about global growth.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was nearly flat in early trade. On Thursday, major US indexes surged almost 1 per cent or more as Apple and Boeing extended their gains after strong earnings reports this week.

US jobless claims figures also helped, with the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week marking its biggest weekly decline since November 2012, falling to its lowest since April 2000.

Japan's Nikkei stock average rebounded about 1 per cent in early trade, a day after shedding 1.1 per cent to mark its biggest one-day drop in two weeks.

Data released before the market open showed the availability of jobs in Japan rose to the highest level in more than two decades and the jobless rate fell in December, while core consumer prices excluding an April sales tax hike were still lagging the Bank of Japan's 2 per cent inflation goal.

The US dollar was steady against its Japanese counterpart, flat on the day at 118.28 yen.

According to Japanese government and central bank officials, the Bank of Japan has put monetary policy on hold and found backing for its wait-and-see stance from advisors to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who worry more easing could send the yen to damagingly low levels.

This newfound caution means Japan is set to be an outlier at a time when central banks from Canada to the euro zone to Singapore have eased policy in recent days to prop up faltering growth and defuse deflationary pressures.

Expectations of further easing from the Reserve Bank of Australia sent the Australian dollar slumping to its lowest in over five years this week, with the Aussie falling as low as A$0.7720. It was last up about 0.2 per cent on the day at A$0.7775.

Ultimately, diverging monetary policy expectations should continue to support the greenback, as the U.S. Federal Reserve gears up to tighten policy later this year amid an improving U.S. economy.

"If there is one takeaway from the recent price action in the foreign exchange market, it should be that buying U.S. dollars is still the best bet in the global currency war," Ms Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York, said in a note.

The euro inched up about 0.1 per cent to US$1.1333, moving further away from this week's 11-year low of US$1.1098.

Oil prices rose on Friday, with US crude edging up from a nearly six-year low touched overnight on data that showed a rise in already record-high US oil inventories. US crude was up 0.2 per cent at US$44.60 a barrel.

Investors were likely to remain cautious ahead of fourth-quarter US gross domestic product data later on Friday. A Reuters poll tipped the economy to have grown 3.0 per cent.