Asia shares notch 19-month highs, dollar firm

 

SYDNEY, Feb 14 (Reuters) – Asian shares inched to 19-month highs on Tuesday as the potential for economic stimulus in the United States lifted the dollar, bond yields and Wall Street stocks.

The dollar was also bolstered by speculation the head of the Federal Reserve would underline the prospects of more U.S. rate hikes when she testifies to Congress later on Tuesday.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged up 0.1 percent, trying for its fifth straight session of gains.

Japan’s Nikkei also added 0.1 percent but is bumping up against stiff chart resistance that has held since mid-December.

Wall Street indexes hit historic peaks on Monday, with the benchmark S&P 500’s market value topping $20 trillion as investors bet tax cuts promised by President Donald Trump would boost the economy.

The Dow rose 0.7 percent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.52 percent and the Nasdaq 0.52 percent. Apple , a component of all three indexes, rose 0.9 percent to close at a record high for the first time since 2015.

The dollar gained on a basket of currencies 100.950, near its strongest since Jan. 20, while the euro was down for the fourth session in a row at $1.0597.

The dollar scored a two-week top on the yen following reports that Trump did not discuss the currency or its strength during weekend talks with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The dollar was last at 113.72 yen.

All eyes are now on Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s semi annual testimony on policy due on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, believes Yellen will outline the case for at least three rate rises this year, rather than the two the market implies.

One thing to be watched was how forceful Yellen was in keeping alive the risk of a hike in March, something the market has priced as a distant chance <0#FF:>.

Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan on Monday argued it should move soon to avoid falling behind the curve, especially as fiscal policy could drive faster growth and inflation.

“Given the uncertainty of timing on the fiscal agenda and the relatively modest uptick in inflation thus far this year, we think it will be difficult for the committee to get enough members onboard for a hike in March,” said Porcelli at RBC.

“But Yellen could certainly move the ‘perception’ needle on this.”

In commodity markets, metals were on a tear thanks to supply disruptions and strong Chinese demand. Copper hit its highest since May 2015 after shipments from the world’s two biggest copper mines were disrupted.

Iron ore climbed to its since August 2014 amid reports China plans to cut steel capacity by at least half in 28 cities across five regions during the winter heating season.

Oil, in contrast, was pressured by a stronger dollar and signs of rising U.S. crude output. U.S. West Texas crude was up 12 cents at $53.05 a barrel, having shed 1.7 percent overnight. Brent futures had lost $1.11 on Monday to stand at $55.59 a barrel.