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Asia: Markets largely flat in morning trade


[HONG KONG] Asian markets were largely flat in morning trade Friday after the dollar firmed on US inflation data, while disappointing Japanese figures challenged Tokyo's war on falling prices.

Japanese inflation slowed for a sixth straight month in January - dampened by weak consumer spending and falling energy prices - its lowest level since Tokyo launched an offensive on falling prices and tepid growth nearly two years ago.

Tokyo ticked up 0.07 per cent, Hong Kong added 0.54 per cent and Shanghai edged down 0.08 percent. Seoul slipped 0.12 per cent while Sydney was up 0.37 per cent and Wellington added 0.08 per cent. Markets in Taiwan were closed for a public holiday.

The dollar eased Friday after rallying on inflation data that pointed to rising price pressures in some areas of the US economy, which could ease the way for the Fed to hike interest rates.

In Tokyo, the dollar weakened to 119.27 yen from 119.42 yen in New York, although it was still higher than 118.97 yen seen in Tokyo earlier Thursday.

The euro rose to US$1.1206, from US$1.1198, but it slipped to 133.65 yen from 133.72 yen in US trade.

- The sharp fall in US consumer prices in January gave the price index its first 12-month fall since 2009. Yet while falling crude-oil prices continued to dampen overall inflation, rising pressures were revealed.

"Some analysts are going to use these data to warn about 'deflation' and say the Federal Reserve should hold off on raising rates. But the details of the report show we are not in the grips of deflation and the Fed should stay on track to start raising rates in June," said FT Advisors economists in a research note.

Speculation has been rising over when the central bank would pull the trigger on a rate hike, with Fed Chair Janet Yellen pointing this week to there being no hurry to raise interest rates from near-zero.

"Headline is known information, but the core measure surprised to the upside," Daniel Brehon, a New York-based strategist at Deutsche Bank AG, told Bloomberg News.

"Given that inflation surprises have been negative around the world, anything above consensus is a sign for optimism and a sign for higher rates in the US." Despite Tokyo's high-profile offensive, Japan's core consumer inflation, excluding volatile fresh food prices, came in at 2.2 per cent year-on-year, down from 2.5 per cent in December, with the rise in overall consumer prices standing at 2.4 per cent.

Meanwhile in a mixed bag of figures, Japanese factory production in January rose a faster-than-expected 4.0 per cent on-month, growing for the second straight month.

Oil prices were up in Asian trade. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for April delivery eased 72 cents to US$48.89 while Brent crude for April rose 66 cents to $60.71.