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Asian stocks take U.S. inflation spike in stride and rally; dollar on defensive

A man uses a smartphone in front of an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in Tokyo, on Feb. 14, 2018.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Asian stocks gained on Thursday after Wall Street brushed aside strong U.S. inflation data and surged, in a move that also saw the dollar pinned at two-week lows even as Treasury yields jumped in anticipation of more rapid U.S. interest rate hikes.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 1 per cent.

Australian stocks climbed 0.9 per cent and South Korea's KOSPI added 1.1 per cent. Japan's Nikkei advanced 1.3 per cent following three successive days of losses that took it to a four-month low the previous day.

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Wall Street surged on Wednesday, with the Dow up 1 per cent and the S&P 500 climbing 1.34 per cent, as investors shrugged off the stronger-than-expected inflation data and snapped up shares of Facebook, Amazon.com and Apple .

U.S. consumer prices rose more than forecast in January as Americans paid more for gasoline, rental accommodation and healthcare, further raising inflation concerns and the prospect of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates more than initially expected.

That drove U.S. Treasury yields on most maturities higher on Wednesday, with those on benchmark 10-year notes hitting a four-year high.

Other data on Wednesday showed U.S. retail sales fell 0.3 per cent in January to mark the biggest decline in 11 months. This was well below forecasts for an increase of 0.2 per cent, suggesting slower growth could accompany higher inflation.

"The combination of stellar U.S. CPI and weak retail sales data leaves investors in a precarious situation," wrote strategists at CitiFX.

"Strong price data presents hawkish risks for the Fed's dots at the March meeting. Three dots have been the baseline and now four seems a greater risk. Meanwhile, retail sales results have caused a downgrade of GDP estimates across the Street."

Dot plots represent Fed officials' expectations for interest rate hikes.

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The dollar index against a basket of currencies slipped 0.25 per cent to 88.892 after losing more than 0.6 per cent overnight despite the strong inflation number. The recovery in broader risk sentiment was seen weighing on the dollar, which had gained during the market turmoil earlier in the month.

The U.S. currency has been buffeted by a variety of setbacks this year, including prospects Washington might pursue a weak dollar strategy and the perceived erosion of its yield advantage as other countries part with easier monetary policy. Concerns about the growing U.S. fiscal deficit have also weighed on the greenback.

The dollar stretched overnight losses against the Japanese yen to touch a 15-month low of 106.420, having declined more than 2 per cent so far this week and causing the Nikkei to underperform its global peers.

"Japanese stocks could act as drag to their regional counterparts if the stronger yen hampers its performance. In that respect the strong yen could be seen as a factor preventing the stabilisation in global markets," said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

The euro extended gains to reach a 10-day high of $1.2473 after surging 0.8 per cent the previous day.

The South African rand traded at 11.72 per dollar and near a 2-1/2-year high of 11.66 set overnight after the country's ruling African National Congress (ANC) said it would proceed with a vote to remove President Jacob Zuma from office.

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The Australian dollar added to the previous day's rally and reached a 10-day top of $0.7946.

In commodities, Brent crude futures were up 0.75 per cent at $64.84 per barrel after prices surged the previous day as U.S. crude stocks rose less than expected and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said major oil producers would prefer tighter markets than end supply cuts too early.

Crude also benefited from the dollar's weakness. Oil tends to move inversely to the dollar, and has also of late been trading in tandem with stocks.

Japan's economy has grown for the eighth straight quarter, something not seen in almost three decades. Shoppers are behind this latest boost, spending big before the holidays. Reuters
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