Asian shares take heart from oil's surprising resilience

Pedestrians are reflected on an electric quotation board displaying the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.
Pedestrians are reflected on an electric quotation board displaying the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares hovered close to 5-1/2-month highs on Thursday (April 21) as oil prices showed surprising resilience partly on hopes that oil producers may eventually agree on a measure to ease a global glut.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3 per cent while Japan's Nikkei gained 2.0 per cent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was flat, down just 2.45 point at 2,947.50 as of 9:19am.

Wall Street shares ended less than 2 pe rcent short of a record-high close on Wednesday as a rebound in oil prices added to optimism sparked by a raft of earnings reports.

The S&P 500 gained 0.08 per cent to 2,102.4, and up 15 per cent since mid-February.

Oil prices held near five-month high hit on Wednesday, when they rose 4 per cent after a smaller-than-expected build in US crude inventories offset supply-glut worries stirred by the end of a Kuwaiti strike.

Oil bulls also bet that major crude producers would meet again to try to curtail output even as Moscow denied media reports that Russia planned to host such a meeting.

Just on Sunday, Russia and OPEC nations failed to reach an agreement on freezing production at a meeting in Doha, Qatar.

"Despite denial from Russia, oil prices were strong, pointing to strong market sentiment. I suspect there is speculation that oil producers will eventually agree on an output freeze," said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

Brent futures traded at US$45.37, down 0.9 per cent in early Asian trade but still not far off its five-month peak of US$45.88 hit late on Wednesday and way above Wednesday's low of US$42.81.

Many other commodity prices were also firm, with copper rising to as high as US$4,981 a tonne on Wednesday, its highest level in about a month.

The Thomson Reuters Core Commodity Index also rose above its March peak to its highest level since early December.

Silver extended gains after Tuesday's sharp gains to hit an 11-month high of US$17.185 per ounce. It last traded at US$17.03, up 4.7 per cent so far this week.

In contrast, gold stayed in its well-worn US$1,210-1,280 range since February and last stood at US$1,245.10 per ounce, up 1.0 per cent on the week.

In the currency market, commodity-linked currencies held firm.

The Canadian dollar hit a 9-1/2-month high of C$1.2593 to the US dollar. It last stood at C$1.2652.

The Australian dollar stood at US$0.7793, having hit an 11-month high of a US$0.7830 on Wednesday.

Against other currencies, the US dollar maintained a firm tone overall, and held an upper hand against the euro ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the day.

ECB President Mario Draghi is likely to drive home the case for ultra-loose monetary policy on Thursday, hitting back after a barrage of criticism from German officials who dispute the bank's recipe for tackling the euro zone's economic malaise.

The euro traded at US$1.1298, having fallen 0.5 per cent on Wednesday.

Against the yen, the dollar held near two-week highs at around 109.78 yen.