Asian shares were mixed on Monday but the yen’s accelerated fall against the greenback drove Japanese stocks to a fresh five-year high, while new economic data signalled a sluggish recovery in China.
The Australian dollar slid below parity with the greenback which surged on persistent speculation about a winding back of quantitative easing by Washington ahead of US retail sales data due later on Monday.
Tokyo rose 1.2 per cent, or 174.67 points, to 14,782.21 as the US dollar briefly breached the 102 yen mark after Japan avoided criticism about its forex policy at a weekend meeting of Group of Seven (G7) financial chiefs in Britain.
Sydney was flat, edging up 0.08 per cent to 5,210.3 while Seoul rose 0.2 per cent, or 3.95 points, to 1,948.70.
In the afternoon, Hong Kong fell 1.50 per cent while Shanghai slipped 0.22 per cent, as traders digested new Chinese economic data for April, including industrial output, which rose 9.3 per cent on-year, below market expectations.
Fixed-asset investment — a key measure of government spending — rose 20.6 per cent in the first four months of the year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, slightly down from 20.9 per cent in the first quarter.
Rise in retail sales
Chinese retail sales were up 12.8 per cent year-on-year in April, picking up marginally from 12.6 per cent in March, NBS said.
The Australian dollar hit 99.68 US cents before recovering to 99.95 US cents after briefly dipping under parity in New York trading on Friday for the first time in 12 months on fears that Australia’s mining-powered economy was slowing.
The currency has been weak since the Reserve Bank of Australia surprised markets last week by reducing interest rates to a record low and analysts tipped it could weaken further ahead of US retail sales data.
Retail sales are a key indicator of consumer spending in the world’s largest economy, the driver of roughly two-thirds of all US economic activity. The data is seen as the next potential catalyst for further movements in the dollar.
“The general theme is that the US dollar is dominating proceedings,” Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets in Sydney, told Dow Jones newswires.
Speculation on Fed policy
The US dollar was aided by speculation that the US Federal Reserve could be the first among major central banks to roll back its huge monetary easing policy.
The currency was also boosted by fresh figures for US jobless claims on Thursday, which fell to a seasonally adjusted 323,000 last week, their lowest level since mid-January 2008, according to the Labour Department.
The greenback breached the 102-yen level in morning Tokyo trade. It later settled back at 101.85 yen, still stronger than 101.62 yen in New York on Friday.
The dollar broke through the 100 yen mark for the first time in more than four years at the end of last week.
Traders cheered the outcome of the weekend G7 talks, where finance officials vowed not to weaken their currencies, but did not directly criticise Japan for the yen’s rapid fall due to the Bank of Japan’s aggressive easing policy.
Japanese media have interpreted the G7’s relative silence on the yen as tacit approval of Tokyo’s policy which had previously stirred criticism, particularly from Europe, that it could set off a global currency war.
Oil prices were lower, with New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in June shedding 78 cents to $95.26 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for June delivery falling 71 cents to $103.20.
Gold was at $1,430.67 on Monday compared with $1,447.50 on Friday.
Taipei fell 0.39 per cent, or 31.94 points, to 8,248.32. Hon Hai Precision was 1.12 per cent lower at Tw$79.6 while leading smartphone maker HTC gained 0.72 per cent to Tw$281.0. Wellington rose 0.41 per cent, or 18.86 points, to 4,671.63. Sky City casino was up 2.27 per cent at NZ$4.50 after reaching a deal to extend its licence, while market heavyweight Fletcher Building eased 1.27 per cent to NZ$8.55.