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Published: Thursday April 25, 2013 MYT 12:02:00 PM
Updated: Thursday April 25, 2013 MYT 4:09:37 PM

Asian shares tick higher, weak durable orders stall dollar


TOKYO - Asian shares edged higher on Thursday, supported by views that a run of weak global economic data will encourage major central banks to keep or deepen their monetary stimulus, though dismal U.S. durable goods orders for March weighed on the dollar.

Oil prices, copper and gold recovered, also helping to improve sentiment towards risk assets.

"Despite the weaker data, equity markets and risk assets look generally well supported, with Q1 earnings releases and ongoing policy stimulus helping to maintain the positive tone," said Mitul Kotecha, strategist at Credit Agricole in a note.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.3 percent, with South Korean shares gaining 0.5 percent as metals and chemicals rebounded on higher gold and oil prices.

Hong Kong shares added 0.5 percent. A 0.3 percent drop in Shanghai capped the rise in the pan-Asian index.

"Fund managers talk of rebalancing their portfolios away from being too tech-heavy. Oil and chemicals are attractive because shares are very cheap," said Yoo Young-kook of Seoul shares.

Early on Thursday, South Korea said its economy grew a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent in the January-March period from the previous quarter, the fastest in two years and far above market expectations. The surprising growth dented expectations for a rate cut by the Bank of Korea.

Otherwise recent disappointing data in the United States, Europe and China has fueled expectations for a global slowdown during the spring for a third straight year.

Global equities rose on Wednesday on strong corporate earnings and speculation that the European Central Bank will cut interest rates next week.

The growing expectations of an ECB rate cut helped offset growth concerns highlighted by U.S. durable goods posting their biggest drop in seven months in March and the Ifo survey showing that German business sentiment in April fell further than the most bearish forecasts.

Despite the rate cut speculation and weak euro zone data, the euro was up 0.3 percent to $1.3050 and away from Wednesday's three-week low of $1.2954. The resilience of the single currency partly stemmed from falling yields in highly-indebted Italy and Spain and hopes Italy will break its political deadlock two months after an inconclusive election.

Adrian Foster, head of financial markets research for Asia-Pacific at Rabobank International in Hong Kong, said the main factor behind an improved tone was the recent rally in the peripheral European government bond market which reflected waning fears about an euro zone implosion.

"We've already been seeing the market evolve from the European crisis to focus more on specific issues in a country or events," he said, adding that it was a positive development that investors were reverting to behavior seen before the financial crisis.

Japan's Nikkei stock average hit its highest since June 2008 earlier on Wednesday, as a weakening yen bolstered expectations for improved corporate earnings. The index was last up 0.1 percent.

Most observers have welcomed an April 4 decision by the Bank of Japan to embark on a radical monetary expansion campaign That could help the global economy. The BOJ plans to inject about $1.4 trillion into the world's third-largest economy in less than two years in an effort to end two decades of stagnation.

"The weaker yen is having a positive effect on companies' earnings, which in turn is lifting stocks," he said. "For now, we see this trend continuing," said Hiroichi Nishi, an assistant general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities.

Japan's capital flows data showed on Thursday that Japanese investors remained net sellers of foreign bonds, in line with comments from big life insurers that they remain cautious about immediately shifting their money out of Japanese government bonds into foreign bonds.

Japanese investors sold a net 862.6 billion yen of foreign bonds in the week to April 20, while foreign investors turned net sellers of Japanese shares.

The dollar was down 0.1 percent at 99.37 yen, still within sight of testing the symbolic 100 yen level which many traders say is just a matter of time. Against a basket of key currencies, the dollar was down 0.4 percent.

The U.S. government's report on gross domestic product due on Friday is expected to show the economy grew at a 3.0 percent annual rate in the first quarter, rebounding from a 0.4 percent gain in the final three months of 2012.

For the current quarter, economists are looking for expansion of only around 1.5 percent or so.

On the corporate front, of the 174 companies in the S&P 500 index that already have reported results, 68.4 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning.

U.S. crude rose 0.5 percent to $91.87. a barrel and Brent was up 0.5 percent at $102.20.

Spot gold jumped 1.1 percent to $1,445.45 an ounce while London copper rose 0.4 percent to $7,060 a metric ton (1.1023 tons).

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