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Asia: Shares inch ahead as G-20 talks, oil holds gains


[SYDNEY] Asian shares made guarded gains on Friday as a gathering of world finance leaders provided a welter of reassuring comments, but little in the way of actual policy stimulus.

Setting the tone for the Shangahi meeting of the Group of 20, China's central bank chief, Zhou Xiaochuan, said Beijing still had the room and tools to support the world's second largest economy.

Yet, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quick to declare that the scope for monetary and fiscal policy was exhausted globally and called for more structural reform.

The early reaction in share markets was cautious. Shanghai stocks added 0.7 per cent, but the bounce looked unconvincing against Thursday's 6-per cent slump.

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MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.7 per cent, while South Korea rose 0.3 per cent. Japan's Nikkei gained 1.2 per cent but could not quite sustain a two-week top.

The S&P 500 had already scored its highest close since early January after oil staged a turnaround to end Thursday 3 per cent higher on speculation a March meeting of major producers might stabilise prices.

US crude was trying to hold those gains on Friday, dipping just 17 cents to US$32.90 a barrel. Brent was 31 cents lower at US$34.98.

On Wall Street, the Dow rose 1.29 per cent, while the S&P 500 added 1.14 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.87 per cent. Data showing a 4.9 per cent rebound in US durable goods orders underpinned the better mood.


With the recent market turbulence front and centre, the G-20 is under pressure to agree a coordinated stimulus program that could stop a global slowdown from turning into something worse.

Yet, G-20 meetings have a long history of disappointing and analysts see little reason why this one should end differently.

"Amidst market turbulence there is a call to arms for the G-20 to get the global economy back on track," said David Cannington, a senior economist at ANZ. "While we can hope for a substantive policy prescription, it's a forlorn one. There is simply too much self-interest globally and that dominates group interest."

Europe would seem to need the help as long-term inflation expectations fell to record lows, piling pressure on the European Central Bank for more aggressive easing.

The closely-watched measure of inflation slid to 1.38 per cent, having dived 35 basis points in just three months even as the ECB expanded its asset buying campaign.

As a result, yields on German 10-year paper closed at their lowest since last April and contributed to a drop in US yields.

That kept the euro pinned at US$1.1045 and far from the February top of US$1.1375. The dollar was steady on the yen at 112.87, almost two yen higher from this week's trough.

Sterling was still nursing its wounds near a seven-year low against the dollar and on track for its heaviest weekly fall since 2009 on worries about a possible British exit from the European Union.