Asia markets up but dollar strugglers as US rate prospects fade

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Major Asian markets gained Thursday but the dollar struggled after the previous day's losses when the Federal Reserve's tepid inflation outlook fuelled speculation it will hold off further US rate hikes this year.

Regional traders tracked fresh Wall Street records on optimism about corporate earnings as a host of big names disclosed results

Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney all rose while Seoul was boosted by Samsung Electronics forecast-beating, record-breaking profits that were fuelled by sales of its new Galaxy S8 smartphone and memory chips.

The Federal Reserve held interest rates Wednesday and confirmed plans to begin winding in its massive bond holdings "relatively soon", as expected.

But the central bank statement also noted that inflation continues to run below its two percent target, which traders took as a negative for the dollar and raised questions about any possible further rate hikes this year.

"Any chance of a September rate hike seems to have disappeared while the Fed's statement balance sheet reduction will begin 'relatively soon' could mean that too has been pushed out," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and FX provider AxiTrader.

"The US dollar has come under intense pressure once again, rates eased a little, and stocks can focus on the continued earnings surprises."

McKenna added there was little chance of a US dollar recovery in the near term.

- Samsung record -

The greenback fell sharply against its major peers following the Fed statement, with the euro climbing to its highest level in more than two years, although the US unit staged a modest recovery in late Asian trade.

It remained well off against higher-yielding currencies, with the Australian dollar spiking 1.4 percent and breaking 80 US cents for the first time since mid-2015.

The greenback fell more than one percent against the New Zealand dollar and the South African rand.

On equity markets Tokyo closed 0.2 percent higher, Hong Kong was up 0.8 percent in afternoon trade and Seoul ended the day 0.4 percent up. Shanghai was up 0.1 percent and Sydney rose 0.2 percent.

Samsung -- the world's largest maker of mobile phones -- said operating profit soared a forecast-beating 72.9 percent from the previous year to 14.07 trillion won ($12.6 billion). That puts in on course to beat Apple, which consensus forecasts say will report a $10.6 billion profit next week. However, the firm finished 0.1 percent off in Seoul.

Oil prices reversed early losses to extend a recent rally, with Brent above $50 and US benchmark West Texas Intermediate at eight-week highs above $48.

Analysts said the bullish trend is expected to continue after the US Energy Information Administration said Wednesday commercial crude inventories fell 7.2 million barrels in the week to July 21.

In early European trade London added 0.1 percent, Paris gained 0.5 percent and Frankfurt dipped 0.2 percent.

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this report --

- Key figures around 0720 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 20,079.64 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.8 percent at 27,155.83

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,249.78 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,457.19

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1721 from $1.1735

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3132 from $1.3114

Dollar/yen: UP at 111.24 yen from 111.18 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 15 cents at $48.68 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 16 cents at $51.14

New York - DOW: UP 0.5 percent at 21,613.43 (close)