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Asia: Stocks rally as US economy picks up

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Asian markets rose on Thursday, led again by Tokyo as the dollar strengthened against the yen on growing expectations the US will hike interest rates by the end of the year.

[HONG KONG] Asian markets rose on Thursday, led again by Tokyo as the dollar strengthened against the yen on growing expectations the US will hike interest rates by the end of the year.

Another round of positive data out of Washington, this time on the key services sector, reinforced opinions that the world's top economy is back on track and able to deal with the impact of tighter borrowing costs.

"Data has been consistent with the Fed moving in December," Chris Green, the Auckland-based director of economics and strategy at First NZ Capital Group, said.

"The Fed has a delicate balancing act," he told Bloomberg News. "They'd want to normalise rates as the economy improves but at the same time they don't want to scare the financial system."

US markets rallied on Wednesday after the Institute for Supply Management said the services sector expanded at its fastest rate in almost a year in September, rebounding from the previous month's slump.

The prospects of US rates tightening within three months has rallied the dollar, which bought 103.47 yen in Tokyo - flat compared with late in New York but well up from the levels below 103 yen earlier on Thursday in Asia.

Japanese exporters welcomed the weaker yen, sending the Nikkei in Tokyo 0.6 per cent higher by the break, putting it on the road to a fourth-straight gain.

Hong Kong added 0.3 per cent, Sydney was 0.4 per cent higher, Seoul put on 0.2 per cent and Singapore gained 0.3 per cent. Shanghai is closed for a week-long public holiday.

The greenback was also at three-decade highs against the pound, which has been hammered this week after Prime Minister Theresa May set a timeline for Britain to exit the EU by 2019.

However, her comments suggesting she was not a fan of the Bank of England's loose monetary policy of bond-buying provided some lift to sterling, which also managed to edged up against the euro slightly - though it is still at five-year lows.

The euro has also been given some lift by a report that the European Central Bank is considering winding down its own stimulus programme.

On oil markets both main contracts dipped in Asian trade, having enjoyed a healthy pick-up Wednesday on data showing a surprise drop in US inventories last week.

WTI and Brent each rose about a dollar on the news as the commodity sees some new life after last week's Opec agreement to cut production.

Brent is now above the crucial US$50 mark that makes drilling cost-effective for companies, while WTI is also approaching the figure.

AFP