Asia: Stocks higher, euro holds up as Greek talks plod

[HONG KONG] Most Asian markets rose Thursday as dealers took a positive lead from Wall Street and Europe, while the euro held its gains after Greece and its creditors met for crunch talks on reforming its bailout.

The dollar edged up following a broadly upbeat round of reports on the US economy as investors look ahead to the release Friday of key US jobs data.

Hong Kong added 0.29 per cent, Shanghai gained 0.55 per cent and Tokyo added 0.33 per cent, while Seoul put on 0.46 per cent. But Sydney shed 0.46 percent.

US shares ended Wednesday on a high note after following figures showing solid growth in private-sector job hiring and a healthy outlook on the economy in the Federal Reserve's latest update.

In its closely watched Beige Book, the Fed said the world's number one economy returned to modest-to-moderate growth in April and May after stalling in the first three months of the year, partly because of severe winter weather.

On Wall Street the Dow added 0.36 per cent, the S&P 500 rose 0.21 per cent and the Nasdaq put on 0.45 percent.

In Japanese currency trade Thursday the dollar was at 124.48 yen compared with 124.23 yen in New York, and well up from 123.90 yen in Tokyo earlier Wednesday.

Equity buying was also supported by comments from European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, who said its new stimulus programme of bond-purchasing had began to kick and there were no plans to end it early.

The ECB also projected eurozone inflation would reach 0.3 per cent in 2015, up from its previous forecast of flat prices, while it kept its 2016 forecast at 1.5 per cent and its 2017 forecast at 1.8 per cent.

Data Tuesday showed inflation in the bloc rose in May for the first time in five months, fuelling hopes a recovery is taking shape.

The euro was at US$1.1262 and 140.13 yen on Thursday compared with US$1.1270 and 140.01 yen in US trade.

The single currency is holding up as investors track talks in Brussels between Greece and its creditors on overhauling its bailout ahead of a Friday deadline for it to repay some of its debt.

While a meeting between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker ended late Wednesday without a breakthrough, they agreed to continue discussions that would unlock billions in much-needed cash for Greece.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also attended the four-hour talks, told reporters it was a "very good meeting".

And the European Commission - the executive arm of the European Union and one of Greece's three bailout monitors along with the IMF and ECB - said: "It was a good, constructive meeting. Progress was made in understanding each other's positions on the basis of various proposals." There are fears that if Athens defaults on its debt obligations it could eventually leave the eurozone.

"It would be quite a surprise if they didn't reach an agreement on Greece," Keith Poore, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors in Wellington, told Bloomberg News. "There's scope for equities to rise further." Oil prices were mixed. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July delivery fell two cents to US$59.62 while Brent crude for July rose 11 cents to US$63.91.

Gold fetched US$1,185.05 compared with US$1,189.20 late Wednesday.


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