Asian stocks extend Wall Street rally after Yellen signals March rate hike

Pedestrians walking in front of an electric quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on Feb 10, 2017.
Pedestrians walking in front of an electric quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on Feb 10, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks rose early on Wednesday (Feb 15) as Wall Street set record highs overnight after Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen spoke in support of an interest rate hike next month, while the US dollar hovered near three-week highs.

Yellen said on Tuesday that the Fed will probably need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting in March, and that delaying rate increases could leave the Fed's policymaking committee behind the curve.

Yellen's comments boosted US bank stocks, helping push Wall Street indexes to record highs overnight.

The rise in US stocks nudged MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan to a 19-month high. The index was up 0.3 per cent early on Wednesday.

"Fundamentally, the US banks are simply being used as a vehicle to express reflation and 'Trumponomics'," wrote Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne. "Although last night really belonged to Janet Yellen whose prepared comments that waiting too long to tighten would be'unwise' and a further review its policy stance will take place at its upcoming meetings."

Japan's Nikkei added 1 per cent and Australian stocks rose 0.9 per cent.

In currencies, the dollar index against a basket of major currencies stood at 101.230, near a three-week high of 101.380 scaled overnight as investors reassessed the possibility of the Fed hiking interest three times this year following Yellen's comments.

US interest rate futures implied traders saw about a 41 per cent chance of at least three rate increases in 2017, up from a 33 per cent chance on Monday, CME Group's FedWatch program showed.

The greenback was a shade higher at 114.370 yen after gaining about 0.5 per cent the previous day, when it rose to a two-week high of 114.500. The euro was steady at US$1.0576 after slipping to a one-month trough of US$1.0561 overnight.

The dollar was supported as US Treasury yields rose on the Fed Chair's comments, with the benchmark 10-year note yield climbing about four basis points to an 11-day high the previous day.

The stronger dollar, which puts non-US buyers of dollar-denominated commodities at a disadvantage, weighed on crude oil prices.

US crude was down 0.3 per cent at US$53.07 a barrel. Crude already came under pressure the previous day on evidence of surging US stockpiles.

Spot gold was little changed at US$1,228.00 an ounce after paring its gains the previous day on a firmer dollar.