Asia shares hug weekly gains, wait on U.S. jobs test

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Asia stocks ex-Japan camp near highest since August; Nikkei holds 2.6 per cent gain for the week; Yen easing as Sino-US trade talks progress

Asian share markets consolidated weekly gains as Sino-US talks dragged on with no concrete conclusions, while caution ahead of US payrolls and a holiday in China and Hong Kong dampened volatility. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed and near its highest since the end of August. It was still up 1.9 per cent for the week and 13 per cent for the year so far. Japan’s Nikkei added 0.1 per cent, to be 2.6 per cent firmer for the week. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 edged up 0.04 per cent. “Share markets have run hard and fast from their December lows and are vulnerable to a short-term pullback,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital. “But valuations are okay, global growth is expected to improve into the second half of the year, monetary and fiscal policy has become more supportive of markets and the trade war threat is receding.”Investors are also waiting on the U.S. payrolls report, which is forecast to bounce back by 180,000 in March, following February’s distorted 20,000 rise. One focus will be hourly earnings, which climbed to 3.4 percent in February, the fastest pace since April 2009. In currencies, the progress on trade was enough to keep the safe-haven yen under pressure and lift the dollar to its highest in three weeks at 111.79. The next chart stops were 111.89 and the March peak around 112.12. Against a basket of currencies the dollar had bounced back to 97.312, from Wednesday’s low of 96.962. Reuters reported Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to US antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy said. The euro was flat at $US1.1227 ($A1.5777) having dipped overnight in the wake of poor German data. Industrial orders there fell by the most in more than two years in February as foreign demand slumped, another sign that Europe’s largest economy had a weak start to the year. Sterling was stalled at $US1.3077 ($A1.8376) as markets awaited some clarity on where Brexit was heading. In commodity markets, spot gold steadied at $US1,291.61 ($A1,815.02) per ounce after touching a near 10-week low overnight. Brent oil had briefly touched $US70 ($A98) a barrel for the first time since November on Thursday as expectations of tight global supply outweighed pressure from rising US production. Brent crude futures were off 15 cents at $US69.25 ($A97.31), while US crude rose 3 cents to $US62.13 ($A87.31) a barrel.

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