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Asian markets lifted by US data, European moves

March 2, 2012

HONG KONG: Asian markets’ upward trend since the start of the year continued today as optimism was boosted by a fresh set of upbeat US data and positive news from the eurozone.

Improving risk sentiment also supported the euro against the yen and dollar but rising oil prices tempered gains.

Tokyo added 0.45% by the break, Hong Kong gained 0.81%, Seoul was up 0.43%, Sydney rose 0.32% and Shanghai was 0.55% higher.

In Europe ministers agreed measures linked to a Greek debt restructuring and the beleaguered country is expected to be given the all clear for its second bailout next week.

The move came at a two-way summit where leaders are discussing measures to promote long-term growth and jobs in the region.

Investors around the world have also been encouraged by a committee’s crucial ruling that Greece was not in default on its bonds in the 107 billion euro (US$142 billion) writeoff deal.

A default ruling would have triggered the payment of credit default swaps, insurance on the debt, which could have tanked Athens’ entire 237 billion euro second bailout.

Adding to positive sentiment was news from the US Labor Department that new claims for unemployment insurance, a key indicator of the pace of layoffs, fell slightly last week.

Claims have been trending downward since the middle of last year and are now at levels last seen in March 2008, while in January, the unemployment rate fell for the fifth straight month, to 8.3%, the lowest since February 2009.

A recent series of positive employment reports has led some analysts to predict the jobless rate will fall again when the Labor Department releases its February job report on March 9.

“There’s definitely a bit of relief out there,” said Sydney-based CBA Institutional Equities head of sales trading, Justin Rooney, referring to the US data and receding European debt worries.

However, Rooney said “the oil price is becoming a bit of a handbrake for the market”, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Crude eased slightly on profit-taking after posting more strong gains in New York on the back of the ongoing standoff between major producer Iran and the West.

New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in April, fell four US cents to US$108.80 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for April was down 14 US cents at US$126.06.

Prices have also been lifted by the generally upbeat outlook for the US economy, while easing European debt woes are also providing support.

However, the increased cost of the black gold has led to caution among some dealers due to inflation fears.

On currency markets the euro moved higher. The unit fetched US$1.3326 and 108.21 yen in Tokyo morning trade, compared with US$1.3311 and 107.97 yen in New York.

The dollar was changing hands at 81.20 yen against 81.10 yen in New York.

Gold was at US$1,723.75 an ounce at 0215 GMT, compared with US$1,717.20 late yesterday.



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