Asian stocks gain in thin trade as US rate hike looms

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Asian stocks mostly gained on Tuesday and the dollar eased, as traders weighed the fallout from a likely US interest rate rise this summer.

Shares in Shanghai surged, while Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul rose in opening deals, but trade was muted after Wall Street and London equity markets were closed for public holidays.

Tokyo led Asian stocks higher on Monday, closing above 17,000 points for the first time in a month, after the yen plummeted against the strengthening dollar.

The greenback was boosted by remarks from Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen that the US could raise interest rates "in the coming months" if data from the world's top economy continues to improve.

Traders saw this as a vote of confidence in the US economy, which has remained resilient even after the Fed raised rates for the first time in almost a decade in December.

Investors will now be watching out for key US job figures due this week for any clues on when the next rate rise might come.

"US policy normalisation and its likely impact has remained a key theme for markets," Mark Smith, a senior economist with ANZ Bank New Zealand, told Bloomberg News.

"The dilemma facing the data-dependent Fed is that some US data does not look as strong as it once did, with manufacturing under the pump."

The prospect of an imminent US rate hike -- traders now believe one is more likely than not in July -- has seen the dollar post its best performance since September 2014 this month.

The greenback paused on Tuesday after two days of gains, falling against the euro and trading sideways against the yen in Asian deals.

Japan's currency slumped against the dollar on Monday, helping to power exporter shares higher, after reports Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could delay a planned tax hike.

Tokyo was scheduled to raise the sales tax from eight percent to 10 percent in April 2017, but weekend comments by Abe suggested he could push it back by two and a half years.

"The USD/JPY gained 0.8 percent overnight as the US dollar continued to strengthen and as the market priced in a delay to the 2017 tax increase," said Angus Nicholson at IG Markets.

"The Bank of Japan is clearly hoping US data this week doesn't upset plans for a July rate hike by the Fed."

The weaker greenback also boosted dollar-denominated commodities on Tuesday by making them cheaper to people shopping in other currencies.

Gold rose for the first time in 10 days -- breaking its longest losing streak in more than a year -- while oil pushed back towards the psychologically key $50 a barrel mark.

At 0237 GMT, global benchmark Brent for delivery in July was trading at $49.73, up 29 cents from deals in Paris on Monday, while US benchmark West Texas Intermediate added 17 cents to $49.52.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo: Nikkei 225: UP 0.52 percent at 17,156.07 (early trade)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 2.24 percent at 2,885.542 (early trade)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.92 percent at 20818.51 (early trade)

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1148 from $1.1136 on Monday

Dollar/yen: UP at 111.09 yen from 111.07 yen

New York and London were closed for public holidays on Monday

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this report --