Asian stocks edge higher, euro scales heights

Stocks mostly edged up in Asian trade on Tuesday, while tighter money market conditions


in the euro zone helped the euro climb to a five-year peak against the yen and a six-week high against the dollar.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was slightly higher, though trading was cautious ahead of next week's U.S. Federal Reserve meeting.

Japan's Nikkei stock average slipped 0.4 percent, pulling back from a one-week high as investors booked gains before the year-end, though Japan's benchmark was still on track for its best yearly performance since 1972.

Signs of improvement in the global economy have provided fitful support to riskier assets in recent weeks as markets have been buffeted by uncertainty over the Fed's tapering timeline.

The euro rose 0.1 percent to 142.02 yen after rising as high as 142.09 yen, its highest since October 2008. Against the dollar, the euro rose 0.1 percent to $1.3758, after rising as high as $1.3768 and moving toward its two-year peak of $1.3833 set in October.

The dollar inched down slightly to 103.23 yen, but remained not far from its five-year peak of 103.74 yen touched in May.

Almost two-thirds of Japanese firms expect the Bank of Japan will increase its stimulus in the first six months of 2014, a Reuters poll showed on Tuesday, keeping pressure on the yen.

"Expectations of further BOJ easing in 2014 appear to be building, as reflected in recent Japanese yen weakness," strategists at UBS wrote in a note.

They said net buying of Japanese equities by UBS clients rose last month to its highest level since May and that Japan was the most favoured region among its clients over both the last four and 12 weeks.

The euro was bolstered by rising short-term interest rates in the euro zone money market as chances of more easing by the European Central Bank faded, though analysts say the central bank's operations are likely to avert any credit crunch.

"Tensions in the liquidity market are set to remain until year-end," strategists at Barclays said in a note to clients. "But a 'liquidity accident' is unlikely as the full allotment at the ECB's operations is an important backstop," they added.

ECB Executive Board member Yves Mersch on Monday played down the prospect of asset purchases, saying such action poses immense challenges for the central bank.

The Fed is expected to begin tapering its own asset purchases in March, a Reuters poll showed on Monday, but some economists now say that it might do so as early as this month or next. The U.S. central bank will hold its next regular policy meeting on December 17-18.

Several Fed officials on Monday also lent credence to the idea that a U.S. stimulus reduction was on the near-term horizon.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the Fed could slightly reduce its monthly bond purchases this month in reaction to signs of an improved labour market, while Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher said tapering should start next week. Meanwhile, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said further stimulus is unlikely to do much to help the U.S. economy.

Bullard is a voting member of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee this year. He recently said a strong payrolls number would raise the chance of tapering in December, and the latest report released last Friday showed employers hired more workers than expected in November, driving the jobless rate to a five-year low of 7.0 percent.

On the commodities front, U.S. crude oil prices edged up to $97.44 per barrel on expectations of a second weekly drop in U.S. crude inventories.

Spot gold slipped slightly to $1,239.04 an ounce, after gaining over the last two sessions on short-covering, technical-selling and some fund-buying.

Copper was steady at $7,137 a tonne, close to one-month highs as steady consumer buying from China put a floor under prices.

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