* Gold hits 3-mth high, dollar eases ahead of Yellen
* Investors wager on dovish tone, even if tapering affirmed
* Asia shares nudge higher, Australia outperforms on upbeat
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, Feb 11 Asian shares firmed and gold
prices hit a three-month high on Tuesday as investors wagered
the new head of the U.S. Federal Reserve would navigate her
first testimony to Congress without rocking the boat for
Fed Chair Janet Yellen appears before the House Financial
Services Committee at 1500 GMT and will likely face questions on
the state of the labour market and the future pace of tapering.
Dealers said the latest betting was that while the tone was
likely to be upbeat on the economy, Yellen would emphasise that
interest rates were set to remain near zero for an extended
"The market is more ready to be relieved than to cheer on
Yellen's comments, which are expected to clarify uncertainties
about the Fed's tapering pace and interest hike plans," Mirae
Asset Securities analyst Chung Seung-jae in Seoul.
"In the absence of a Fed meeting in February, her
testimonies are seen as the biggest risk event for the month."
Just the hope was enough to lift gold 0.7 percent to
$1,283.69 an ounce, while the dollar lost a quarter of a
cent to the euro at $1.3668.
The dollar also dipped a touch to 102.15 yen, though
activity was curtailed by a holiday in Japan.
The sharpest move came in the Australian dollar which tacked
on half a cent to $0.9005 after figures showed a broad
improvement in business activity combined with a near 10 percent
annual increase in home prices.
The local share market was further underpinned by a solid
earnings report from Australia and New Zealand Banking Group
and added 0.6 percent.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
rose 1.1 percent, with Hong Kong leading the way
by climbing 1.6 percent.
U.S. stock futures were also trading firmer with the S&P 500
e-mini contact up 0.3 percent.
Yellen appears before the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives Financial Services Committee on Tuesday and the
Democrat-controlled Senate Banking Committee on Thursday.
Analysts have generally assumed Yellen would stick with the
script and reiterate that the Fed will continue to scale back
its asset buying, as long as the economy improves as expected.
"The testimony is likely to be more theatre than economics,"
said Marshall Gittler, head of global FX strategy at online
trader IronFx Global.
"Yellen will probably try to remain polite and give upbeat,
optimistic answers that will play well on TV. In that respect
her testimony may present a favourable picture of the U.S.
economy that could boost the dollar."
One argument for staying the course on tapering is that bond
investors have learned to live with the idea without freaking
out, as they did a couple of times last year.
Yields on U.S. 10-year Treasury paper have
settled back at 2.67 percent, well below recent highs of 3.04
percent and less of a threat to the housing market.
Investors, too, have accepted that tapering is not the same
as tightening and have pushed out the timing of the first actual
hike in the Fed funds rate. A move is not fully priced in until
late 2015 , a view Yellen is likely to endorse.
In oil markets, prices steadied after recent gains as the
market looked toward the end of a long and frigid winter.
Brent was up 5 cents on Tuesday at $108.68 a barrel
but off a five-week high above $109. U.S. crude inched up
a cent to $100.07, after rising to its highest this year on
Monday at $100.55.