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Asia bourses look to end quarter on positive note

Friday 05.10 BST

Overview

Asian stocks were mostly positive on Friday as investors prepared to end a solid first quarter of 2017 and Wall Street closed in on record highs.

Hot topic 1

South Africa’s rand was 1.2 per cent weaker in Asian trading in the wake of the nation’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, being dismissed on Thursday by President Jacob Zuma.

The currency has shed a cumulative 7.7 per cent this week and was on track for a fifth straight day of declines.

Hot topic 2

Global stocks look set to chalk up their best start to a year since 2013, with the MSCI World Index up 6.2 per cent in the March quarter.

The S&P 500 added 0.3 per cent on Thursday, with US banking stocks rallying as December quarter gross domestic product growth was revised higher to an annual pace of 2.1 per cent. The benchmark index is up 5.8 per cent in the year to date, putting it on track for its best quarterly performance since the final three months of 2015 and the best start to a year since 2013.

The Nasdaq Composite added 0.3 per cent to a record high.

For the month of March, however, global stock markets were mixed. Asian equities have generally performed better this month than their US and European counterparts, but were trailing them this week.

Equities

The Shanghai Composite was up 0.3 per cent on Friday as the Chinese benchmark recovered from a four-day losing streak that sent it to a six-week low on Thursday. The technology-focused Shenzhen Composite was up 0.2 per cent.

Although shares are not seen as particularly sensitive to economic data, some economy watchers are likely to have taken heart at an official survey showing activity in China’s manufacturing sector climbed to its highest since 2012.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down 0.5 per cent on Friday.

Japan’s benchmark Topix gained 0.6 per cent, with exporters encouraged by a 0.8 per cent drop in the yen on Thursday — its biggest one-day fall since the start of this month.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.2 per cent, with banking stocks coming under pressure as the country’s prudential watchdog tightened mortgage-lending rules for interest-only borrowers.

Forex

The Japanese yen was 0.2 per cent weaker at ¥‎112.11 per dollar, bringing losses over the past two sessions to 1 per cent. The currency sold off following data on Friday showing headline inflation and industrial production grew more than expected in February but mostly eased from the previous month, while the jobless rate fell to its lowest since June 1994.

The dollar index, a measure of the US currency against a basket of global peers, was up 0.1 per cent at 100.58, with investors cheered overnight by an upward revision to US fourth-quarter GDP. The greenback was eyeing its first four-day winning streak since mid-February.

Commodities

Oil prices were cooling in Asia on Friday after solid gains over the previous two sessions. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 0.5 per cent at $52.71, while West Texas Intermediate was down 0.4 per cent at $50.15. Thursday was the first time since March 10 that the two benchmark prices had concurrently traded above $50.

Gold was down 0.1 per cent at $1,241.31 an ounce.

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