Asia shares steady, investors look to next phase of Greek deal

By Hideyuki Sano and Lisa Twaronite

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares were flat on Monday as many countries in the region returned from Lunar New Year holidays, with sentiment supported by relief that Greece reached a deal to avert an immediate fiscal crisis.

Euro zone ministers late on Friday agreed to extend Greece’s financial rescue package by four months, a shorter extension that the six months the country had sought. Relief over the last-minute deal boosted Wall Street shares to record highs, and was likely to jump-start European markets.

Spreadbetters saw Britain’s FTSE 100 <.FTSE> and Germany’s DAX <.GDAXI> opening about 0.5 percent higher, and France’s CAC 40 <.FCHI> up 0.8 percent. The Greek stock market will be closed on Monday for a public holiday.

“Friday’s agreement between Greece and the EU left both sides claiming victory, as well as pushing stock markets in the U.S. to record highs, and looks set to see European markets open higher this morning with the FTSE100 potentially opening at a record high,” Michael Hewson, chief strategist at CMC Markets in London, said in a note to clients. 

But Asian markets as a whole saw little follow-up buying after the U.S. gains. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was virtually flat from its Friday close, after earlier drifting lower.

U.S. stock futures were also nearly flat in Asian trading, but Japan’s Nikkei <.N225> took a cue from Wall Street’s Greek-relief rally to rise 0.7 percent and notch another 15-year high.

“The debt deal is giving comfort to the market,” said Masashi Oda, chief investment officer at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, adding that investors’ risk appetite for Japanese shares is mainly due to their attractive valuations.

Activity in Asia is expected to pick up this week as many market players return from Lunar New Year holidays, with mainland Chinese markets set to remain closed until Wednesday.

Oil prices wobbled, as cautious optimism about the Greek debt deal struggled to offset supply concerns. Brent pared gains and was slightly higher at $ 60.24 a barrel, while U.S. WTI crude erased its earlier rise and dropped about 0.3 percent to $ 50.66.

Greece has to provide a list of reform measures to euro zone by Monday to secure financing, but domestically it came under attack for selling “illusions” to voters after failing to keep a promise to extract the country from its international bailout.

“Ultimately Greece has to carry out reforms but it is uncertain given that the government has won by promising not to reform,” said Hiroki Shimazu, senior market economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

The euro traded at $ 1.1377 little changed from Friday’s late U.S. levels and within its well worn trading range of the past few weeks centering around $ 1.13-1.15.

The yen was also steady for much of the session, trading at 118.95 yen against the dollar, after a rise in U.S. Treasury yields after the Greek bailout agreement on Friday helped the U.S. unit climb off a low of 118.30 yen.

Later on Monday, Germany’s Ifo business climate index is expected to show a continued recovery in the euro zone’s powerhouse economy. [DEBUSS=ECI]

Looking ahead, investors will focus on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony on the economy and monetary policy before the U.S. Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Although the minutes from the Fed’s last policy meeting published last week were more dovish than expected, increasing signs of strength in the U.S. jobs market could revive expectations of a rate hike in June.

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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