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SINGAPORE: Asian stocks rose to a seven-month peak on Friday, tracking global peers as investors cheered the prospect of an imminent rate easing cycle led by major central banks, keeping the dollar and Treasury yields under pressure.

Japan remained an outlier as expectations mount that the Bank of Japan (BOJ) could finally exit negative interest rates this month.

That lit a fire under the yen and sent domestic bond yields rising.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan peaked at 538.47 points in early Asia trade, its strongest level since August.

It was last 1% higher, and was eyeing a weekly gain of nearly 2%.

Global stock indexes had in the previous session rallied to record highs after the European Central Bank (ECB) laid the ground for a potential rate cut in June, while Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a similar tone on the path of US rates.

“Very seductive words when it is uttered by the Fed Chair, it appears, in the context of confidence to initiate rate cuts,” said Vishnu Varathan, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Mizuho Bank.

“Markets were certainly not shy in construing this as an open invitation to pivot-type rallies.”

The two-year US Treasury yield, which typically reflects near-term rate expectations, fell to a one-month low of 4.499% on Friday as traders added to bets of imminent Fed rate cuts.

The benchmark 10-year yield was last at 4.0923%.

Focus now turns to the closely watched nonfarm payrolls report due later on Friday for further clues on the US rate outlook, particularly after January’s blowout jobs report which stunned markets.

Friday’s labour market data comes ahead of a reading on US inflation next week.

“If we do get that hot nonfarm payrolls data tonight, followed by a hotter-than-expected CPI, it could unravel very, very quickly across equity markets, across assets including gold, bitcoin and then to currency markets,” said Tony Sycamore, a market analyst at IG.

“It’s something to be aware of. It’s not my base case, but it’s certainly a risk.”

In the meantime, expectations of an imminent Fed easing cycle kept the dollar broadly weaker and it hit a roughly two-month low on the euro on Friday.

The single currency was last at $1.0948, after peaking at $1.0956 earlier in the session. Sterling similarly rose to an over two-month high of $1.2820.

The yen hit a one-month high against the greenback on Friday at 147.54 per dollar, helped by recent commentary from BOJ officials which fuelled speculation that the central bank could soon move away from its ultra-easy monetary policy stance.

The Japanese currency was poised for its best week since December with a nearly 1.5% rise.

BOJ governor Kazuo Ueda and board member Junko Nakagawa said on Thursday the Japanese economy was moving towards the central bank’s 2% inflation target, while the country’s largest trade union group said the average wage hike demand hit 5.85% for this year, topping 5% for the first time in 30 years.

The BOJ has long set broad-based and sustained wage increases as a prerequisite for a stimulus exit.

Reflecting expectations of a near-term BOJ pivot, the two-year Japanese government bond (JGB) yield rose to its highest since April 2011 at 0.2%, while the 10-year JGB yield was up 1.5 basis points at 0.74%.

“We’ve had enough hawkish rhetoric of late from BOJ members that they’re telling us what’s likely to happen,” said IG’s Sycamore. “They have everything now in place whereby they can deliver that exit from negative interest rate policy.”

China stocks lead Asia lower, gold drifts after record peak

While a stronger yen is typically bad for Japanese stocks, the Nikkei nonetheless rode global equities higher on Friday and was last up 0.67%.

China hopes

Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese stocks started the session on a strong footing, with blue chips rising 0.4% and the Shanghai Composite Index gaining 0.25%.

Both indexes, however, were set to end the week little changed.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index jumped more than 1%.

Data on Thursday showed China’s export and import growth in the January-February period beat forecasts, though that did little to turn battered sentiment around, as investors were left underwhelmed by the lack of details for strong stimulus from Beijing to shore up the country’s economic recovery at this week’s annual parliament session.

“China’s 2024 National People’s Congress met expectations with respect to key policy actions, but disappointed in terms of sentiment - market participants (were) clearly hopeful the new year would bring a more aggressive policy style,” said Elliot Clarke, head of international economics at Westpac.

In commodity markets, Brent rose 31 cents to $83.27 a barrel, while US crude gained 40 cents to $79.33 per barrel.

Spot gold edged 0.1% lower to $2,157 an ounce after touching an all-time high of $2,164.09 in the previous session, as the prospect of an imminent Fed easing cycle boosted the appeal for the non-yielding yellow metal.


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