Asian shares up amid hunt for returns

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IOL pic jun23 market arrows . Photo: Filomena Scalise

Sydney - Asian shares swung higher on Thursday as weak US growth seemed to further delay the day when interest rates might rise, prompting investors to plow funds into riskier assets in a desperate search for returns.

A shockingly poor reading on the US economy for the first quarter also pressured the dollar while giving a lift to most commodities and resource-related currencies. Globally, the longer term bond prices rose as investors sought out the back end of the yield curve for better returns.

The prospect that Federal Reserve would keep rates low for longer encouraged equity investors, though some were cautious in case a key measure of US inflation due later Thursday surprised on the high side.

The price index for personal consumption expenditures is the Fed's favoured measure of inflation and looks likely to have reached its highest since late 2012 in May.

For now most regional markets were in the black with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 0.8 percent. Japan's Nikkei gained 0.3 percent and Australia 0.7 percent.

On Wall Street, the Dow bounced 0.29 percent, the S&P 500 0.49 percent and the Nasdaq 0.68 percent.

Shares of CBS had shot up 6.2 percent as the US Supreme Court ruled TV startup Aereo violates copyright law by using tiny antennas to provide subscribers with broadcast network content via the Internet.

Markets managed to put a positive spin on data showing the US economy shrank at an annualised 2.9 percent pace in the first quarter, far below already-pessimistic estimates.

Analysts emphasised the weakness was mainly due to one-off factors and a marked rebound was likely this quarter.

Yet the result was so poor that it soured the outlook for the entire year, such that the Fed's recently lowered forecast of 2.2 percent growth for 2014 now seems highly optimistic.

This only added to market expectations the Fed would keep rates near zero well into next year and led investors to push out ever further on the yield curve in search of returns.

The trend nudged yields on 10-year Treasuries down to 2.56 percent and away from the June peak of 2.66 percent.

The hunt for yield was even more acute in Europe, where the European Central Bank recently started charging banks for taking their cash deposits.

The tide of money pushed yields on German 10-year debt to a one-year trough of 1.26 percent. That in turn widened the spread against US paper out to 130 basis points, giving Treasuries the biggest premium in at least two decades.

That yield advantage could provide the US dollar some support over time, but for now the sticker shock from the GDP numbers kept the currency under pressure.

The dollar index fell as far as 80.091, a low not seen since May 22, while the euro bounced to $1.3633.

Sterling climbed to $1.6987 from a one-week low of $1.6952, while the Australian dollar popped back above 94 US cents from $0.9354.

The New Zealand dollar was another commodity-linked currency doing well, hitting a seven-week high within a hair's breadth of its 2014 peak. The kiwi was up at $0.8764 having surged a full US cent in 24 hours.

The weaker US dollar helped gold up to $1,316.60 an ounce, from a low of $1,310.36 on Wednesday.

In oil markets, US crude was firmer after news of a government decision to permit exports of lightly refined oil promised to open a new source of demand for the product.

US crude added 9 cents to $106.59 a barrel, while Brent dipped 19 cents to $113.81. - Reuters


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