Asian stocks climbed, erasing yesterday’s losses, and oil gained before data forecast to show the fastest U.S. retail sales growth in five months and improving confidence among German investors. New Zealand’s dollar rose after house and food prices increased.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index (MXAP) rallied 1.2 percent as of 12:45 p.m. in Tokyo, advancing for the third time in four days. Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index added 0.4 percent. The euro strengthened 0.2 percent and New Zealand’s dollar rose 0.6 percent. The S&P GSCI Index of raw materials added 0.5 percent. Oil climbed 0.5 percent to $106.89 a barrel.U.S. retail sales probably rose 1.1 percent in February, while a German sentiment gauge from the ZEW Center for European Economic Research reached a one-year high, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said yesterday that he was confident EU leaders would reach an agreement on increasing the size of crisis-fighting funds this month.
“We’re starting to feel more confident and it’s going to be a good year, particularly in equities,” Kirk West, Sydney- based executive director of international investments at Principal Global Investors, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. The firm oversees about $215 billion in assets. “In the U.S., it’s all about jobs. Jobs growth has continued and will ultimately lead to further consumption and that’s a virtuous cycle.”
The Federal Reserve is wrapping up a policy meeting today. The Wall Street Journal last week reported the U.S. central bank is considering a strategy that would allow it to undertake another round of bond buying, while lowering the risk of inflation. Financial stocks climbed 1.5 percent for the biggest gain among 10 industries in the MSCI Asia-Pacific gauge.
The Bank of Japan also meets on policy today. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average (NKY) advanced 1 percent. The yen dropped against all of its 16 major counterparts and slid 0.2 percent against the euro.
Three shares rose for each that fell in the Asian equity benchmark. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of Chinese companies listed in Hong Kong rallied 1.3 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index and South Korea’s Kospi Index gained 1.2 percent.
Asahi Kasei Corp. (3407), a Japanese maker of synthetic fibers and industrial chemicals, slid 3.1 percent in Tokyo after agreeing to buy Zoll Medical Corp. for $2.2 billion. Golden Eagle Retail Group Ltd. (3308), a department store operator based in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, rallied 5.4 percent in Hong Kong after reporting 2011 profit gained 26 percent.
The EU’s Rehn said yesterday that the European Commission was ready to prepare a proposal on strengthening the so-called firewall against the debt crisis. While leaders had made “quite good progress” in taming the situation, the need remained for the EU to complete its crisis response plans, Rehn said in Brussels after a meeting of finance ministers.
Greece, which concluded a bond-swap deal with private investors, is now in line to receive more than 100 billion euros in the next three years from the European Financial Stability Facility, the euro region’s temporary rescue fund, EFSF Chief Executive Officer Klaus Regling said.
“It seems like the Greek bond deal is going through; that issue is off the table, at least for the time being,” said Stephen Halmarick, Sydney-based head of investment markets research at Colonial First State Global Asset Management, which oversees about $150 billion. “I wouldn’t expect much out of the BOJ, and obviously people will wait and see what the Fed says.”
U.S. Trading Volume
Futures signal the S&P 500 (SPX) may advance in U.S. trading today, after closing little changed yesterday. Treasury 10-year yields were little changed at 2.04 percent on speculation that stronger U.S. economic data will reduce the case for further easing by the central bank. The two-year yield reached 0.33 percent today, the highest since Aug. 4.
Trading on American equity exchanges fell to the lowest level of the year yesterday as enthusiasm waned among investors even after the S&P 500 rallied 25 percent in five months. Shares changing hands on all exchanges fell 16 percent to 5.23 billion today from March 9, while S&P 500 composite volume slipped 17 percent to 2.17 billion shares, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Those are the lowest daily levels excluding holiday weeks since Bloomberg began tracking the data in 2008.
The so-called kiwi dollar halted two days of losses after the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand Inc.’s index of house prices rose 0.8 percent to 3,280.5 last month, according to a statement today. Separately, the statistics bureau said February food prices increased 0.6 percent from the previous month.
Cash platinum advanced for a fifth day, the longest rally since October, gaining 0.3 percent to $1,700.25 an ounce. Spot gold added 0.2 percent to $1,704.52 an ounce. Platinum prices climbed above gold for the first time since September yesterday on concern for less production in South Africa amid improving global auto sales.
The cost of insuring bonds against non-payment dropped, according to credit-default swap traders. The Markit iTraxx Asia index of 40 investment-grade borrowers outside Japan fell 1 basis point to 155.5 basis points, BNP Paribas SA prices show. The gauge is poised to close at its lowest level since Sept. 2, according to data provider CMA.