Asian stocks subdued before oil producers' meeting, US dollar's advance slows

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks were off to a subdued start on Friday (April 15) as caution towards a weekend meeting of oil producers tempered risk sentiment, while the US dollar's advance slowed in wake of soft US inflation data.

Japan's Nikkei shed 0.5 per cent, while Australian shared edged up 0.2 per cent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan stood flat. The index has gained about 3.6 per cent on the week during which it hit a five-month high, helped by a slight thaw in pessimism towards the Chinese economy and earlier surge in crude oil prices.

Stocks have gained globally this week against such a backdrop, with the S&P 500 reaching its highest point so far this year overnight and taking it a step closer to record highs scaled almost a year ago.

"There are a lot who doubt the current market rally at the moment, particularly when the S&P 500 is so close to its all-time highs," wrote Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne. "And yet, in a world where one-third of government bonds have negative yields, there is a strong incentive to increase one's equity allocation in pursuit of positive returns."

The markets meanwhile awaited China's GDP data due later on Friday and Sunday's meeting of top oil producers in Doha for near-term cues.

China's economy may have grown at its slowest pace since the global financial crisis in the first quarter of 2016, highlighting the headwinds the world's second largest economy still faces despite recent signs of stabilisation.

Oil prices have pulled back from recent peaks on concerns that the top producers' meeting may not result in tightening of supply.

US crude oil dipped 4 cents to US$41.46 a barrel, moving further away from a 4-1/2-month peak above US$42 reached mid-week when market hopes were higher that the Doha producers'meeting would result in tighter supply.

The dollar, which had gained broadly this week amid improved risk appetite, stalled against the yen and euro after Thursday's data showed US consumer prices rose less than expected in March.

The euro traded little changed at US$1.1267, nudged away from a two-week low of US$1.1234 plumbed earlier on Thursday.

The dollar was down 0.1 per cent at 109.31 yen, pushed off a one-week peak of 109.55 scaled overnight. The dollar still stood comfortably above a near 18-month trough of 107.63 struck on Monday.

The British pound was steady at US$1.4139, moving away from an overnight low of US$1.4091 after Bank of England policymakers voted 9-0 to keep interest rates at a record low of 0.5 per cent, quashing speculation that one or more members could vote to cut rates.

The pound was also pressured earlier on Thursday after a YouGov poll was the latest to show Britain split down the middle on June's referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

The Australian dollar, buoyant through much of the week thanks to a bounce in commodities, fell back from a nine-month peak of US$0.7737 reached overnight and last traded at US$0.7685 .