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Asian stocks, US dollar slip as Trump caution outweighs China GDP

Friday, January 20, 2017 - 10:53

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Caution prevailed in financial markets on Friday ahead of US President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, even as China's fourth-quarter economic growth beat expectations and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen took a less hawkish policy stance.

[SINGAPORE] Caution prevailed in financial markets on Friday ahead of US President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, even as China's fourth-quarter economic growth beat expectations and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen took a less hawkish policy stance.

China's fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth came in at 6.8 per cent, versus forecasts of 6.7 per cent, supported by higher government spending and record bank lending. The data helped China shares but did not move regional markets.

The world's second-largest economy expanded 6.7 per cent in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics said, in line with forecasts.

While the robust headline growth may soothe investors, concerns are growing about whether Beijing can contain the financial risks from an explosive expansion in debt fuelled by years of government stimulus.

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A cooling housing market and painful structural reforms, as well as pressure on exports if Mr Trump fulfils his protectionist promises, are also key risks for China in 217.

The US dollar fell after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that gradual monetary adjustments were prudent, taking a less hawkish tone than anticipated.

Her statement was seen as less aggressive than a Wednesday speech in which she cautioned that waiting too long to raise rates could risk "a nasty surprise down the road - either too much inflation, financial instability, or both," amid comments by other Fed officials that seemed to favour faster rate hikes.

The greenback slipped 0.1 per cent to 114.665 yen. On Thursday, it surged as much as 0.8 per cent on upbeat US data pointing to brightening economic prospects, before closing less than 0.2 per cent higher at 114.82 yen as concern about Mr Trump's policies returned.

US homebuilding rebounded sharply in December amid stronger demand for rental housing, and the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to near the 43-year low touched in mid-November.

"The dollar could fall if Trump pushes forward his protectionist rhetoric in his inauguration speech," said Minori Uchida, chief FX analyst at Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ.

"Some investors also expect more details on his policies, so the dollar could also slip if Trump does not mention any specifics."

The US dollar index, which tracks it against a basket of six major global peers, pulled back 0.2 per cent to 100.96 on Friday. On Thursday, it pared a 0.8 per cent gain to close up 0.2 per cent.

The 10-year US Treasury yield fell 0.2 per cent to 2.4646, after spiking to as high as 2.496 on Thursday.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.2 per cent, and looked set to end the week 0.1 per cent lower.

Japan's Nikkei reversed earlier gains to trade flat as the yen strengthened, and was on track for a 1.1 per cent weekly loss.

Australian stocks retreated 0.6 per cent, heading for a 1.1 per cent decline for the week. South Korean shares slid 0.2 per cent, poised to end the week 0.4 per cent lower.

US stocks were also restrained, with the major indexes posting losses of as much as 0.4 per cent, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average down for its fourth straight session.

"There's been a lot of positive news priced into the market so it's taking a break on the equities side," said Wade Balliet, chief investment strategist of the Bank of the West in Denver.

Amid questions about whether Mr Trump will deliver on his pro-business promises, including tax cuts, fiscal stimulus and looser regulation, investors are "getting nervous trying to piece together what the policies will be," he said.

The euro rose on Friday, extending gains following initial losses after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi played down a recent rise in euro zone inflation, as investors parsed his statement and noted he had announced no changes to policy.

The common currency advanced 0.2 per cent on Friday to US$1.06835. It dropped as much as 0.4 per cent on Thursday, before retracing its steps to close 0.3 per cent higher.

In commodities, oil rose after the International Energy Agency said oil markets had been tightening even more as cuts agreed by producers took effect. Still, gains were tempered by concerns about swelling US inventories.

US crude added 0.3 per cent to US$51.54 per barrel, pulling further away from Wednesday's one-week low.

Spot gold climbed 0.2 per cent to US$1,207.66 an ounce, set for a weekly gain of 0.8 per cent.

REUTERS

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