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Asia: Shares jump on Ukraine ceasefire, hopes on Greece

[TOKYO] Asian shares gained on Friday on news of a ceasefire accord in Ukraine, while Sweden's surprise move to cut its main rate into negative territory and hopes of a resolution between debt-strapped Greece and its creditors burnished risk appetite.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 1.1 per cent. Japan's Nikkei slipped 0.3 per cent but the broader Topix tacked on 0.1 per cent.

The gains came after a rally in Europe and Wall Street, with the pan-European stock index hitting a seven-year high and the S&P 500 coming within striking distance of a record high.

The Nasdaq also hit a 15-year high while the volatility index, a gauge of investors' fear, fell to around 15.3 per cent, its lowest level so far this year. "Investors feel more comfortable now as major sources of worries have been taken away," said Hirokazu Kabeya, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

The main driver of receding anxiety was news of a ceasefire in Ukraine, providing relief to investors as tit-for-tat sanctions between the West and Moscow over Ukraine had become an added burden on the global outlook, particularly in Europe and Russia.

Preliminary data due later in the day is expected to show stagnant growth in the euro zone, with economists forecasting 0.2 per cent expansion in the final three months of last year, unchanged from the preceding quarter.

Meanwhile, a standoff between Greece and its European creditors on Greece's bailout programme eased somewhat after Greece made an about-face on Thursday, agreeing to talk to the"troika" of international lenders.

While doubts remain on how quickly they can reach any deal, Greek stocks rose sharply, with the country's main index jumping 6.7 per cent.

Adding to the positive mood, the Swedish central bank surprised investors by launching a stimulus programme and cutting its main interest rate below zero.

The Swedish crown fell by as much 2 per cent against the dollar to hit a six-year low of 8.5512 crowns, its weakest since April 2009, before recovering somewhat to 8.4350 to the dollar.

As Sweden joined a growing number of countries that have eased policy to stimulate growth, some analysts are starting to ponder the merits of the US Federal Reserve continuing to maintain its tightening policy bias.

"As many countries ease monetary policy, many currencies are falling, leading to rise in the dollar, much like the yen was expensive in the past," said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

He said investors may need to pay more attention to comments from US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Thursday that Washington will "push back very hard" against countries that target weaker exchange rates to gain an unfair trade advantage.

Indeed, US retail sales figures published on Thursday were weaker than expected, disappointing dollar bulls who had hoped to see evidence of a boost to consumption from a nearly 40 per cent fall in gasoline price since June.

That helped to push the dollar's index against a basket of currencies lower to 94.199, from this week's high of 95.115, pulling it further away from an 11-year high of 95.481 hit last month.

The euro rose to this week's high of US$1.1423 on Thursday and last stood at US$1.1398, on track to post the third straight week of gains.

The yen also climbed to 118.95 yen on the dollar, off a five-week low of 120.48 hit on Wednesday.

Sterling joined the fray and jumped after the Bank of England raised its UK growth and inflation forecasts, hitting a six-week high of US$1.5415 on Thursday. It last stood at US$1.5385.

The weak US data also underpinned US Treasuries, with the 10-year US notes yield hitting 1.986 per cent, off a six-week high of 2.049 per cent touched on Thursday..

Oil prices were firm after gains steered by deeper industry spending cuts and a fall in the dollar. Brent crude futures held at US$59.10 per barrel.