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Asia: Stocks cautious but oil price holds above US$50

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[HONG KONG] Asia stocks markets moved cautiously in early trade on Friday despite a positive lead from Wall Street and further overnight gains in the price of oil.

US and European markets ticked up overnight, supported by a dovish outlook for US interest rates and some healthy post-Brexit data in Britain.

The oil price has also continued its upward trend, with Brent crude holding above US$50 a barrel on official data showing lower US crude stockpiles and hints of a possible production freeze.

But traders treaded carefully Friday morning, with Asian markets moving in and out of positive territory.

Tokyo was flat by the break, even as the yen eased against the dollar, with the greenback changing hands at 100.19 yen against 99.94 yen Thursday in New York.

A weaker yen is a plus for Japan's exporters, as it boosts the overseas profitability of exporters.

Hong Kong fell 0.3 per cent, reversing early gains as casino companies Sands China and Galaxy Entertainment both plunged more than three per cent.

Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei and Kuala Lumpur were all down, while Sydney was up 0.1 per cent and Wellington rose 0.2 per cent.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve's July meeting released on Wednesday have pushed global stocks higher by suggesting that policymakers were unlikely to go ahead with an imminent an interest rate hike.

In Europe, stocks advanced Thursday after British retail sales surged by 1.4 per cent last month, indicating there was no immediate fallout from the June vote to pull out of the European Union.

Some energy stocks in Asia got a lift after the oil price rally continued overnight - holding above the psychological US$50 mark, which it reached Thursday for the first time since early July.

The recent upward trend is due in part to talk from Saudi Arabia and other producers that major oil exporters could agree to cap output next month.

Adding to that, weekly US Department of Energy data released Wednesday showed US crude stockpiles fell by 2.5 million barrels and gasoline stocks by 2.7 million barrels.

"Energy stocks are likely to be supported again today after another strong session for oil overnight," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets said in a note.

"While high inventory levels and recent production increases may cap the oil rally before too long, producers now seem likely to achieve higher average prices over the coming period."

West Texas Intermediate rose six cents to US$48.28 a barrel while Brent was down eight cents, at US$50.81.

AFP