Asian markets mostly higher after Wall St rally

HONG KONG - Asian markets rose further Thursday following another record performance from Wall Street, while Tokyo hit fresh multi-year highs as the dollar approached the 100-yen (S$1.24) mark.

While buying sentiment remains positive, dealers are keeping an eye on the stand-off on the Korean peninsula as the North, expected to fire a missile within the next few days, ratchets up its bellicose rhetoric.

Tokyo rose 0.83 per cent by the break, Hong Kong added 0.81 per cent, Sydney was 0.55 per cent higher, Shanghai climbed 0.29 per cent and Seoul lost 0.27 per cent.

Regional markets extended their recent positive run on the back of a Wall Street rally fuelled by minutes from the last Federal Reserve policy meeting reasserting a commitment to keep easy-money policies in place until the jobs market picks up.

The minutes said: "Many participants... expressed the view that continued solid improvement in the outlook for the labour market could prompt the committee to slow the pace of purchases beginning at some point over the next several meetings."

The March 19-20 meeting came after a February jobs surge, which added 268,000 non-farm payrolls.

But March data released last week showed a paltry gain of 88,000 jobs, the slowest growth in nine months and below expectations, leading dealers to bet there will not be in any hurry to ease up on stimulus.

On Wall Street the Dow rose 0.88 per cent and the S&P 500 surged 1.22 per cent, with both indexes closing at fresh record highs. The Nasdaq added 1.83 per cent.

In Tokyo the dollar moved to within a whisker of the 100-yen mark before easing slightly as buying sentiment remains supported by last week's monetary easing measures laid out by the Bank of Japan.

The dollar was quoted at 99.60 yen in early Asian trade, against 99.76 yen in New York late Wednesday. It had peaked at 99.85 yen earlier Thursday in Tokyo.

The euro was at 130.08 yen against 130.26 yen while edging down to $1.3054 (S$1.62) from $1.3068.

"With momentum on its side and Bank of Japan policy in place to push it, the dollar's break through 100 yen is just a matter of time," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager of equities at SMBC Nikko Securities.

The dollar last topped 100 yen in April 2009.

Dealers were keeping an eye on North Korea, watching for the expected missile test, while South Korean and US forces raised their alert status to "vital threat" as the Pentagon warned Pyongyang it was "skating very close to a dangerous line".

On oil markets prices slipped, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in May, dropping 27 cents to $94.37 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for May delivery shedding 16 cents to $105.63.

Gold was at $1,560.04 an ounce at 0305 GMT compared with $1,581.50 late on Wednesday.

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