Asian stocks edge higher on Wall Street cues, oil up

Pedestrians walk past an electric quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in front of a securities firm in Tokyo on Jan 4, 2017.
Pedestrians walk past an electric quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in front of a securities firm in Tokyo on Jan 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Asian stocks edged higher on Thursday (Jan 5), underpinned by a firm Wall Street after minutes from the Federal Reserve's December meeting suggested a less hawkish stance from policymakers.

Oil prices rose on expectations of drops in US inventories.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan gained 0.2 per cent, on track for a eighth consecutive session of gains. Early Asian markets such as Australia rose 0.4 per cent.

"The FOMC dot plots project three interest rate hikes in 2017 however the market is less optimistic with Fed Fund futures pricing in two hikes," said James Woods, global investment strategist at Rivkin Securities in Sydney. "The market will now focus on Trump's first 100 days where he sets the tone for his presidency and whether or not he will be able to implement his policies."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.3 per cent to end at 19,942.16 and the S&P 500 gained 0.57 pe rcent to 2,270.75 after minutes showed most Federal Reserve policymakers thought the economy could grow more quickly because of fiscal stimulus under the Trump administration.

The FOMC minutes noted upside risk to growth forecasts and uncertainty over the level of fiscal stimulus, while some members warned that the tighter labour market could signal a more aggressive path of rate increases.

In currencies, the US dollar briefly stumbled after policymakers noted extended gains in the greenback would weigh on inflation though it managed to pare losses by the end of a choppy US session.

The dollar was trading around the 117 handle against the Japanese yen while it edged lower against the euro .

China's offshore yuan was the only notable exception with the currency posting its biggest daily gain against the dollar in a year.

Oil managed to hold on to Wednesday's chunky gains on expectations US oil inventories have dropped and on signs that the world's top oil exporters will stick to agreed output cuts that took effect this week. Crude futures rose 0.2 per cent.