Asian stocks shake off Wall Street shadow, dollar gains

Lisa Twaronite
Pedestrians stand in front of a stock quotation board displaying stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo
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Pedestrians stand in front of a stock quotation board displaying stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

By Lisa Twaronite

TOKYO (Reuters) - The dollar pushed higher on Friday and Asian stocks clawed their way off session lows, moving past downbeat results on Wall Street as some investors wagered that upcoming U.S. data will paint an optimistic picture of the world's largest economy.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major currencies, held its ground on the day, adding 0.1 percent at 80.949.

The dollar was flat on the day against the yen at 104.34 yen, though it held well off a four-week low of 102.85 set on Monday. Against the euro, the dollar edged up to $1.3615.

"European markets should open on a flat to positive footing, with plenty for traders to focus on," said IG chief market strategist Chris Weston.

The batch of data due later in the session include December U.S. housing starts, building permits, industrial production and the University of Michigan sentiment index.

Financial spreadbetters predicted Britain's FTSE 100 and France's CAC 40 to each rise as much as 0.3 percent, and Germany's DAX 0.2 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan managed to erase an earlier drop and tack on 0.2 percent, while Australian shares pared losses to end down 0.1 percent. Japan's Nikkei index ended off its session lows, down 0.1 percent.

Thursday's U.S. data showed consumer prices rose the most in six months in December, in line with expectations, and the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a second week last week. But the Philadelphia Fed's index of business conditions in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region fell to its lowest level since April.

Markets were caught off-guard a week ago when payroll numbers showed U.S. jobs growth unexpectedly weakened. But subsequent upbeat data, including robust consumer spending, dispelled some of the concerns.

Investors initially reduced positions on Friday before a three-day weekend in the United States, where markets are closed on Monday for a public holiday, said Norihiro Fujito, a senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo

On Thursday, the Standard & Poor's 500 backed away from a record high struck in the previous session, after disappointing earnings from banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup Inc, though some noted that the broader impact was limited.

"The market has not made much of the news with regard to global growth, though, as oil prices remained broadly unchanged and non-financial stocks broadly outperformed," strategists at Barclays said in a note to clients.

U.S. crude futures rose 0.2 percent to $94.10 a barrel, not far from a two-week peak of $94.64 reached earlier this week after U.S. government data showed a larger-than-expected drop in inventories. They were set to post their first weekly gain in three weeks.

But Brent crude fell 0.2 percent to $105.51 a barrel, on track for a weekly decline of 1.7 percent.

Gold was steady, slightly higher at $1,243.80 an ounce in the wake of the brighter U.S. data.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar slumped 0.1 percent to $0.8813, after it shed more than 1 percent on Thursday to $0.8777 -- a low not seen since August 2010. Traders said good buying interest below 88 U.S. cents should provide some support for now.

The Aussie plunged after news Australia's economy shed 22,600 jobs in December, when economists had expected a small increase.

(Additional reporting by Ian Chua in Sydney and Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Eric Meijer & Shri Navaratnam)