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Asia: Stocks rise as ECB soothes nervous markets, oil extends bounce
[TOKYO] Asian stocks rose on Friday after a hint of more monetary easing by the European Central Bank and a bounce in crude oil from 12-year lows helped soothe skittish markets.
Japan's Nikkei jumped 3.5 per cent to move away from a 15-month low struck Thursday. Speculation for more easing also favoured Tokyo shares amid hopes that the Bank of Japan would opt for additional stimulus at its Jan. 28-29 policy meeting. "We're seeing a really nice bounce today as lots of people close their short positions but that doesn't necessarily mean we've seen the bottom," said Nicholas Smith, a strategist at CLSA. "It's tough to know when a panic is going to subside but it does look like we're starting to get there." Australian shares rose 1.3 per cent and South Korea's KOSPI climbed 1.8 per cent. Volatile Shanghai shares added 0.8 per cent.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 2 per cent. The index probed a four-year low on Thursday. It was still on track to lose 1.5 per cent on the week which saw a slide in oil prices and China-led global growth concerns continue to pummel risk assets globally.
The ECB managed to contain some of the pessimism for the time being after ECB President Mario Draghi hinted strongly on Thursday that more easing could be coming within months. Fading growth and inflation prospects will force the central bank to review its policy stance in March, Mr Draghi said. "With little new information on China, the rebound in sentiment looks to be more closely tied to actions among major central banks," wrote Todd Elmer, Citi's Asian head of G10 FX strategy. "However, the apparent improvement in sentiment poses risks. If central banks fail to deliver it could drive a negative turn in market thinking," he added.
The euro slipped 0.3 per cent to US$1.0843. The common currency had fallen to an eight-month low of US$1.0523 in December but has appreciated significantly because the ECB's easing decision that month fell far short of expectations.
The dollar was up 0.1 per cent at 117.77 yen, pulling away from a one-year trough of 115.97 struck earlier this week against the safe-haven Japanese currency.
The Chinese yuan remained relatively steady against the dollar as efforts by local authorities to quell speculation of a sharp depreciation appeared to work for now.
Onshore spot yuan stood little changed at 6.5797 to the dollar, corralled in a narrow 6.5837-6.5768 band so far this week.
After guiding the yuan sharply lower and pushing onshore spot rates to a five-year low earlier this month, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) has helped the currency plateau by setting a succession of midpoints within a tight range. Authorities have also introduced steps to discourage speculators from shorting the yuan.
US crude oil extended a rally made overnight after data showed stockpiles at some US sites did not grow as much as forecast, providing participants in the battered market with an incentive to cover short positions.
The contracts were up 0.8 per cent at US$29.75 a barrel. US crude fell to its lowest levels since 2003 earlier this week as the prospect of Iranian oil - following the lifting of international sanctions on Tehran - flooding a heavily saturated market dragged down prices.
Other commodities also benefited as the broader markets calmed somewhat after a tumultuous week. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was steady at U$S4,425 a tonne, poised for a 2.5 per cent weekly rise.