Asian shares slip from five-month high, dollar steadies

TOKYO – Asian shares prices edged away from five-month highs on Thursday, while the dollar steadied after slipping on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s indication that the US central bank is in no hurry to hike interest rates.

Financial spreadbetters expected a downbeat open in Europe, with Britain’s FTSE 100 .FTSE seen opening 12 to 14 points lower, or down 0.2 per cent; Germany’s DAX .GDAXI called to open 11 to 15 points lower, or down 0.1 per cent; and France’s CAC 40 .FCHI expected to open 1 to 2 points lower, or off 0.04 per cent.

Greece remained in focus after the country said on Wednesday it will struggle to make debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank this year while Germany’s finance minister voiced open doubts about Athens’ trustworthiness.

“A lack of clear direction and mixed sessions descended onto the markets yesterday on both sides of the Atlantic and we are set to see the same again this morning. Doubts are setting in over the viability of the Greek debt deal,” Jonathan Sudaria, a dealer at Capital Spreads, said in a note.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS fell about 0.2 per cent, as investors took profits after Yellen’s testimony and a China factory survey’s better-than-expected headline number lifted it to a five-month high on Wednesday.

Japan’s Nikkei stock average .N225 outperformed, rising about 1.1 per cent to a fresh 15-year high, helped by news that the Federation of National Public Service Personnel Mutual Aid Associations, the body managing Japan’s national civil service pensions, will raise its target allocation for domestic stocks to 25 per cent from 8 per cent.

“This officially-announced drastic investment strategy is giving renewed excitement to the market,” said Shigemitsu Tsuruta, senior strategist at SMBC Friend Securities.

MSCI’s 46-country world index .MIWD00000PUS edged up 0.1 per cent, and stood just below its double-top of its September peak and a record high hit in July.

“On the whole, the world’s markets seem likely to be in a risk-on mode. The valuation still looks not that expensive, except for US markets,” said Hirokazu Kabeya, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

The price-earnings ratio of US shares stood at 19.6, but the world’s markets on the whole were traded at 16.3 times earnings, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.

Wall Street shares were narrowly mixed on Wednesday as a positive mood was offset by a 2.6 per cent fall for Apple (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which saw some profit-taking after gaining 21 per cent since the start of this year.

Data released overnight showed solid US new homes sales in January despite snow storms in the country’s Northeast. [USHNS=ECI].

The US data followed Wednesday’s survey showing activity in China’s factory sector edged up to a four-month high in February.

Yellen’s congressional testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday suggested the Fed is in no rush to raise rates, even though technically she did not rule a hike as early as in June.

“The only thing that is clear is that the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) has given itself more flexibility than before,” said Ray Attrill, global co-head of FX strategy at National Australia Bank in Sydney.

“If US data begins to positive surprise once more, the market will quickly jump back on to the ‘Buy USD’ bandwagon.”

Following Yellen’s comments, US bond yields have fallen sharply this week, with the 10-year notes yielding 1.958 per cent US10YT=RR on Thursday, compared to 2.133 per cent at the end of last week and a six-week high of 2.164 per cent on Feb. 18.

The lower yields weighed on the dollar. The dollar index .DXY inched down about 0.1 per cent on the day to 94.161, while the greenback edged up slightly against the yen JPY= to 118.92, moving back toward this week’s high of 119.84.

The euro stood at $ 1.1369 EUR=, slightly higher than Wednesday’s levels.

Oil prices erased gains after surging on Wednesday following comments from Saudi Arabia’s oil minister that oil demand was growing.

Brent crude LCOc1 shed about 0.1 per cent to $ 61.58 a barrel, while US crude CLc1 was down 0.4 per cent at $ 50.78.

Spot gold XAU= added about 0.5 per cent on the day to $ 1,211.20 per ounce, rising for a second straight session and pulling away from a seven-week low hit on Tuesday

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