Asian markets on course to end positive week on a high note

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Asian markets built on the past week's gains Friday following another rally on Wall Street as traders welcomed a below-forecast US inflation read that dampened expectations for a sharp lift in interest rates.

While geopolitical tensions continue to linger after Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear pact this week, dealers were buoyed by the prospect of cheaper borrowing after data showed consumer prices edged up only slightly in April.

News that Trump and Kim Jong Un had agreed to meet on June 12 in Singapore -- the first US-North Korean summit in history -- lifted optimism and fuelled hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula.

The inflation data provided some relief to trading floors, which have fluctuated over recent months on worries that an improving US economy and an expected surge in inflation will force the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy.

"The market is breathing a sigh of relief that there was not an upside surprise to the inflation stats," Peter Boockvar, the chief investment officer of Bleakley Financial Group, wrote in an email to clients.

The news lifted all three main indexes on Wall Street and those gains extended into Asia.

Hong Kong rose one percent, putting it on course for a fifth-straight gain, while Tokyo ended the morning 0.9 percent higher and Sydney added 0.3 percent. Shanghai was 0.1 percent higher.

Singapore rose 0.4 percent and Seoul gained 0.6 percent, while Wellington and Taipei also posted healthy gains.

Manila was 1.7 percent higher a day after data showed the economy expanded at a strong pace in the first three months of the year, and despite a central bank interest rate hike.

However, Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, offered a word of caution, warning: "Sure, (consumer price) inflation didn't surprise on the upside. But that doesn't mean the Fed isn't still going to raise rates two or three more times this year and it doesn't mean quantitative tightening isn't going to continue."

Still, lower expectations for US rates hurt the dollar on Thursday and it struggled to recover in Asia, losing ground to the yen and euro. Even the pound held its own despite the Bank of England slashing its economic growth and inflation outlook.

Movements in the crude market were tepid after recent surges that came on the back of Trump's Iran decision and data showing US demand for the commodity appeared to be picking up.

However, both main contracts remain around highs not seen since November 2014 and there is still talk of further rises to around $80 a barrel.

Exchanges of rockets between Israel and Iran are also keeping traders wary of a flare-up in the volatile Middle East, with the Syria crisis still raging.

- Key figures around 0230 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.9 percent at 22,699.76 (break)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.4 percent at 31,237.05

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,177.02

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP two cents at $71.38 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN seven cents at $77.40 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1923 from $1.1919 at 2100 GMT

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3522 from $1.3516

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.32 yen from 109.42 yen

New York - Dow: UP 0.8 percent at 24,739.53 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.5 percent at 7,700.97 (close)

-- Bloomberg News contributed to this story --