Asian stocks find support but oil still unstable, STI up 0.5%

A pedestrian looks at an electronic stock board outside a securities firm in Tokyo.
A pedestrian looks at an electronic stock board outside a securities firm in Tokyo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Asian shares pushed back into the black on Thursday (Jan 28) as investors dipped their toes back into equities and demand for safehaven assets such as the yen and sovereign bonds faded.

A bounce in oil prices offered some salve to strained nerves. While Brent crude was off 23 cents at US$32.87 a barrel, this followed a 4 per cent jump on Wednesday after Russia hinted at co-operation with Opec on oversupply.

US crude eased back 21 cents to US$32.09.

After starting weaker, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan swung 0.4 per cent firmer in very choppy trade.

Likewise, Japan's Nikkei turned 0.3 per cent higher having been down more than 1 per cent at one stage. Shanghai's Composite Index was just a whisker lower.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 0.48 per cent at 2,558.31 as of 10:48 am.

Wall Street had a poor finish though dealers noted E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 had since rebounded by 0.65 percent.

The Dow had ended Wednesday with losses of 1.38 per cent, while the S&P 500 fell 1.09 per cent and the Nasdaq shed 2.18 percent.

Apple's shares fell 6.57 per cent after the iPhone maker reported its slowest-ever rise in shipments, while Boeing lost 8.9 per cent in its biggest fall since August 2011.

The blame for Wall Street's fall was laid at the door of the Federal Reserve, with investors apparently frustrated the central bank was not concerned enough about the global outlook to scale back its plans for policy tightening.

Rather, the Fed left all options open, including a hike at the next meeting in March.

"We have no doubt that the market was looking for a 'Fed put' via some commentary about the committee growing increasingly nervous about financial markets and the global backdrop," wrote Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBCCM. "Instead, the Fed chose the pragmatic route."

The reaction to the Fed in currency markets was much more muted. The US dollar gained on the safe-haven yen to 118.88, while the euro was sidelined at US$1.0883.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar edged up 0.12 per cent.

There is little in the way of market-moving economic data out of Asia. In Europe, Britain's fourth-quarter growth data looms large for the embattled pound.

Annual economic growth is expected to have slowed to 1.9 per cent, from 2.1 per cent, an outcome that could push expectations for a hike in interest rates even further out. Markets are currently pricing in a rate hike in 2017.

Sterling was last at US$1.4256, having retreated from this week's high of US$1.4367.