Asia stocks supported; falling dollar a burden for Nikkei

SYDNEY Sun Feb 16, 2014 6:41pm EST

1 of 6. An office worker walks past the board of the Australian Securities Exchange building displaying its logo in central Sydney April 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Daniel Munoz

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian markets could take heart on Monday after Wall Street managed to look past more soft U.S. data, though Japanese stocks will be pressured by a stronger yen as the dollar loses altitude.

Turnover is likely to be thinned with U.S. markets closed for Presidents' Day, but Australian shares set the early tone with a rise of 0.4 percent .AXJO. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS added 0.2 percent, having bounced 5 percent in seven sessions.

The Nikkei .N225 may not fare as well since the dollar had slipped under 102 yen to hover at 101.74 on Monday. A stronger yen is viewed as negative for Japanese exports and corporate profits, and often prompts knee-jerk selling in shares.

In contrast, a lower dollar tends to be positive for commodities priced in that currency, helping lift gold to near a three-month peak at $1,319.89.

The main data on Monday will be Japan's gross domestic product (GDP) report, which is forecast to show annualized growth of 2.8 percent for the fourth quarter.

On Wall Street, the Dow .DJI ended Friday up 0.79 percent, while the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.48 percent. The MSCI global stock index .MIWD00000PUS climbed 0.5 percent on Friday, bringing its gains to 5 percent in eight sessions.

The gains came despite a disappointing reading on U.S. industrial output, with markets seemingly content to put much of the weakness down to bad weather.

For equity investors, the run of soft figures recently has a silver lining in that it lessens the risk of the Federal Reserve

speeding up its tapering plans, while keeping any hike in rates a very distant prospect.

"The Fed expects to continue tapering, but will be patient when it comes to raising rates," said Michael Gapen, an economist at Barclays.

He noted the Bank of England had signaled similar patience with its policy, while the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan were under pressure to ease yet further.

"With two major central banks likely to ease further in coming months, and the other two likely to wait before removing accommodation, the recent improvement in global sentiment should persist," said Gapen.

The BOJ's starts a two-day policy meeting on Monday. While no move is expected, there is much speculation it will eventually act to support the economy once an increase in the sales tax goes through in April.

CHINESE LOANS

There was better news on China as data showed banks there disbursed the most loans in any month in four years in January, a surge that suggests the world's second-biggest economy may not be cooling as much as some fear.

Chinese banks made 1.32 trillion yuan ($218 billion) worth of new yuan loans in January, beating a 1.1 trillion yuan forecast and nearly three times December's level.

It is usual for loans to spike in January, when banks try to lend as much as they can to grab market share, but last month's surge was still the largest since January 2010.

The next hurdle will be HSBC's flash PMI survey of manufacturers for February later this week, given January's disappointing result sent ripples through global markets.

The same day has a rash of flash PMIs for Europe and the United States, along with U.S. inflation data.

Finance Ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 also start their meeting in Sydney on Thursday. Events run through to Sunday, when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, among others, gives a news conference.

Minutes of the February policy meeting of the Federal Reserve are due on Wednesday but are not expected to differ greatly from the steady outlook offered by Fed Chair Janet Yellen last week.

Yellen still has to appear before the Senate after her testimony was postponed due to bad weather, but no firm day has been set as yet.

(Editing by John Mair)

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