Asian markets extend rally after US gains

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian shares climbed for a third straight day Friday following more advances on Wall Street, while bargain-buying helped oil recover slightly from its latest sell-off.

The euro was also struggling to staunch a sell-off against the US dollar, with the European Central Bank expected to unleash a vast easing programme at the same time as the US Federal Reserve plots an interest rate hike.

There was little initial reaction to news that Chinese inflation for December edged up from the previous month but fell well short of the government's target for the full year.

Tokyo rose 0.43 per cent, Hong Kong added 0.90 per cent, Sydney climbed 1.00 per cent and Seoul was up 0.89 per cent. Shanghai, which has clocked up gains of more than 50 per cent over the past year, was 0.57 per cent lower.

The Straits Times Index was trading up 7.47 points, or 0.22 per cent, at 3,352.58 at around 11:25 am.

Confidence has picked up over the past few days as analysts predict the ECB will launch a bond-buying scheme - known as quantitative easing (QE) - to kickstart the eurozone economy.

Expectations were fanned when data Wednesday showed consumer prices in the region had fallen for the first time since October 2009, during the financial crisis.

A pause in the downward spiral of oil prices also provided relief after a report showed US stockpiles had fallen last week, giving some hope that demand is picking up.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery edged up 35 cents to finish at US$49.14 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for rose 20 cents to US$51.16.

Eyes are now on a closely followed US jobs report due later in the day, with forecasts for another sharp rise in new posts, giving the Fed more ammunition to lift interest rates.

The release Wednesday of minutes from the bank's December meeting boosted spirits after it showed policymakers are unlikely to announce a hike until at least April.

In New York the Dow surged 1.84 per cent, the S&P 500 jumped 1.79 per cent and the Nasdaq gained 1.84 per cent. And markets in Frankfurt, Paris and Milan closed up more than 3 per cent.

"When it comes to US economic reports there's nothing more important to the Fed than labour market numbers," said Kathy Lien of BK Asset Management.

"The December employment report is scheduled for release on Friday and the big question is whether the strength in November carried into December."

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