SENSEX NIFTY
Feb 24, 2012, 09.27 AM IST | Source: Reuters

Asian shares inch up but growth worry caps

Asian shares rose on Friday as solid US data improved sentiment, but the upside may be capped by concerns that rising oil prices could deal a further blow to the fragile eurozone economy and moves to take profits after recent gains.

Asian shares inch up but growth worry caps

Asian shares rose on Friday as solid US data improved sentiment, but the upside may be capped by concerns that rising oil prices could deal a further blow to the fragile eurozone economy and moves to take profits after recent gains.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2%while Japan's Nikkei average opened nearly flat.

US stocks neared peaks not seen since before the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers on Thursday after data underscored a recovery in the battered labour and housing markets.

The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits last week held at the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-2009 recession, while U.S. December home prices rose 0.7%.

The German Ifo think-tank survey of business sentiment rose to its strongest level in seven months, lifting the euro to its highest in two-and-half months against the U.S. dollar at USD 1.3379. The euro held near the peak at USD 1.3370 on Friday.

But the European Commission forecast that economic output in the euro zone will contract 0.3% this year, while the wider European Union will stagnate.

A surge in oil prices on heightening tension between Iran and the West pushed Brent oil priced in euros to a record high on Thursday, adding to worries that rising fuel costs would damage growth and further undermine euro zone debt restructuring efforts.

"The market will probably give Europe some benefit of doubt in the early months of the year as most were expecting weak data," Deutsche Bank said in a note dated February 23.

"However, unless the data improves by the second half of the year, any signs of weakness will be seen as more structural and more worrisome from a debt sustainability point of view," it said.

Brent futures valued in euros hit a record 93.60 euros per barrel on Thursday, exceeding the previous peak of 93.46 euros hit on July 3, 2008,

Dollar-denominated Brent crude rose for a fourth day and hit a nine-month high, settling at USD 123.62 a barrel on Thursday, still well short of 2008's record USD 147 a barrel. US crude extended gains on Friday, rising 0.7% to USD 108.57.

Iran remained defiant after UN nuclear inspectors failed to check activities at a site where the UN International Energy Agency said there is a facility to test explosives, sparking fears Iran's confrontation with the West would escalate and affect oil flow from the Middle East.

Higher oil prices raise inflation expectations in the United States, lowering real interest rates and undermining the dollar, said Junya Tanase, chief currency strategist at JPMorgan Chase in Tokyo.

"There is a fairly strong correlation between oil price and U.S. inflation expectations. The dollar has been rather resilient during the recent 'risk-on' mode, lifting dollar/yen above our forecast, but this strength may see a correction if oil prices and inflation expectations stay elevated," he said.

Tanase noted the risk of the euro falling against the yen in the short-term if more negative news on Greece emerged.

The dollar was off a seven-month high against the yen hit earlier in the week of 80.40 yen. The euro was steady against the yen at 106.90 yen.

Asian credit markets were subdued, with the spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index little changed from Thursday.

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