Asia stocks edge up after upbeat US data, dollar sags

Pedestrians walking past an electronic stock display in Tokyo.
Pedestrians walking past an electronic stock display in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks pulled ahead on Friday (May 27) after patches of US data continued to paint the world's largest economy in a positive light, while the US dollar was on the defensive against its major peers.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.2 per cent to a two-week high. The index was on track to gain 2.3 per cent this week.

Japan's Nikkei nudged up 0.4 per cent, buoyed by prospects of Tokyo delaying a sales tax hike.

The Dow inched down 0.1 per cent and the S&P 500 ended flat overnight after rising strongly for two days as advancing utilities offset declines in materials, banks and other cyclical industries.

US data released on Thursday showed durable goods orders, pending home sales and initial jobless claims coming in strong, while capital goods orders and the Kansas City Fed manufacturing survey were weak.

The dollar was steady at 109.780 yen after losing 0.4 per cent overnight. The euro treaded water at US$1.1190 following Thursday's 0.3 per cent gain.

The dollar index was nearly flat at 95.108 after slipping 0.3 per cent overnight, pulling away from a two-month high of 95.661 scaled on Wednesday.

The greenback had rallied earlier in the week on growing expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates as soon as June or July, supported by a series of comments from Fed officials seemingly backing such a move.

The financial markets are now looking to US first quarter GDP release and comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen at a Harvard University-sponsored event later on Friday.

"Given the uniformity of comments from policymakers, we don't think Yellen will throw cold water on rate hike expectations and could in fact reinforce them," wrote Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management. "Economists are also looking for first quarter GDP growth to be revised higher so today's pullback in the dollar should be temporary."

The Australian dollar extended gains after rising overnight on a modest upgrade in domestic capex data. The Aussie, which fell to a near three-month low of US$0.7145 on Tuesday amid a slide in commodities, was last up 0.1 per cent at US$0.7230 .

In commodities, crude oil went into consolidation mode after prices hit US$50 a barrel overnight for the first time in seven months.

Brent crude was down 0.1 per cent at US$49.52 a barrel after surging to as high as US$50.51 on Thursday.

Wildfires in Canada's oil sands, unrest in the Nigerian and Libyan energy sectors, and a near economic meltdown in OPEC member Venezuela have knocked out nearly 4 million barrels per day in immediate production, sparking a buying frenzy in crude futures.