Asian Stocks Jump as Dollar Slide Boosts Oil

SYDNEY (Reuters) —
Pedestrians are reflected in an electronic board showing Sharp Corp's stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, February 4, 2016. Sharp Corp board members have decided to give Hon Hai Precision Industry Co preferred negotiating rights, choosing the Taiwan firm's offer over a rescue plan from a Japanese state-backed fund, a source familiar with the move said on Thursday. REUTERS/Yuya Shino
Pedestrians are reflected in an electronic board showing Sharp Corp’s stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, Thursday. (Reuters/Yuya Shino)

Asian shares rallied on Thursday as speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve might opt to not raise interest rates at all this year hammered the dollar and sparked a huge rally in oil prices.

By some measures the U.S. currency suffered its largest one-day percentage drop outside of the crises of 1998 and 2008, symptomatic of just how crowded bullish positions had been.

The sudden reversal provided a much-needed boost to beleaguered commodities, sending oil up no less than 8 percent, and easing pressure on energy shares and risk appetite.

That relief showed in equity markets where MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan jumped 1.9 percent. Australia’s resource-heavy index rose 1.7 percent and South Korea 1 percent.

In China, the Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.8 percent as trade wound down ahead of the Lunar holidays. Hong Kong stocks leaped 1.7 percent, in part because the U.S. dollar’s fall lessened strains on the HK dollar’s peg.

Japanese investors, however, seemed less happy with the yen’s newfound strength against the dollar and nudged the Nikkei down 0.7 percent.

European shares are expected to rise, with Britain’s FTSE 100 seen rising 0.4 percent and Germany’s DAX up 0.5 percent.

Wall Street had taken its cue from oil and recouped early losses on Wednesday, in a wild session that saw the Dow swing in a 420-point range.

The Dow ended Wednesday up 1.13 percent, while the S&P 500 added 0.5 percent and the Nasdaq Composite eased 0.28 percent.

Traders were unsure what triggered the dollar rout, though many pointed to comments from Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley that tighter financial conditions would be taken into account at the next policy meeting in March.

In an interview with Market News International, Dudley also warned that a sharp rise in the dollar could have “significant consequences” for the U.S. economy.

Investors took that to mean the Fed did not want to see the currency rise any further and might delay further increases in interest rates. Futures markets had already priced out almost any chance of a hike in March and imply a funds rate of just 0.51 percent by December.

The current effective funds rate is 0.38 percent.

The impact was amplified by a surprisingly soft reading on the U.S. services sector, just the latest in a string of disappointing economic indicators.The market reaction was swift and violent with the dollar collapsing through a host of key chart levels and triggering waves of stop-loss selling.

The dollar changed hands at 117.89 yen, having shed 1.7 percent overnight in its biggest daily drop since August.

The fall wiped out all the gains from the Bank of Japan’s decision to cut its rates below zero, a tit-for-tat response that only added to market suspicions that central banks were engaged in a war of competitive depreciations.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was pinned at 97.351, after shedding 1.6 percent on Wednesday. The euro was enjoying the view at $1.1087, having climbed 1.7 percent on Wednesday.

The drop was a boon to commodities priced in U.S. dollars, lifting everything from copper to gold to oil.

Brent futures put on another 30 cents to $35.34 a barrel, on top of a 8.4 percent gain overnight. U.S. crude added 36 cents to reach $32.64.

Spot gold was up at $1,142.70 an ounce and near its strongest since Oct. 30.

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