Asia stocks find support but oil still unstable, STI up 0.5%

Asia stocks find support but oil still unstable, STI up 0.5%

SYDNEY - Asian shares pushed back into the black on Thursday as investors dipped their toes back into equities and demand for safehaven assets such as the yen and sovereign bonds faded.

A bounce in oil prices offered some salve to strained nerves. While Brent crude was off 23 cents at US$32.87 a barrel, this followed a 4 per cent jump on Wednesday after Russia hinted at co-operation with OPEC on oversupply.

US crude eased back 21 cents to US$32.09.

After starting weaker, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan swung 0.4 per cent firmer in very choppy trade.

Likewise, Japan's Nikkei turned 0.3 per cent higher having been down more than 1 per cent at one stage. Shanghai's Composite Index was just a whisker lower.

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index was up 0.48 per cent at 2,558.31 as of 10.48am, after opening 0.08 per cent lower.

The initial losses followed a poor finish on Wall Street, though dealers noted E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 had since rebounded by 0.65 per cent.

The Dow had ended Wednesday with losses of 1.38 per cent, while the S&P 500 fell 1.09 per cent and the Nasdaq shed 2.18 per cent.

Apple's shares fell 6.57 per cent after the iPhone maker reported its slowest-ever rise in shipments, while Boeing lost 8.9 per cent in its biggest fall since August 2011.

The blame for Wall Street's fall was laid at the door of the Federal Reserve, with investors apparently frustrated the central bank was not concerned enough about the global outlook to scale back its plans for policy tightening.

Rather, the Fed left all options open, including a hike at the next meeting in March. "We have no doubt that the market was looking for a 'Fed put' via some commentary about the committee growing increasingly nervous about financial markets and the global backdrop," wrote Tom Porcelli, chief US economist at RBCCM. "Instead, the Fed chose the pragmatic route."

The reaction to the Fed in currency markets was much more muted. The dollar gained on the safe-haven yen to 118.88, while the euro was sidelined at US$1.0883.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar edged up 0.12 per cent.

The New Zealand dollar fell more than half a US cent after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said low inflation meant further policy easing may now be required, having previously flagged that it would not cut rates further.

The kiwi dollar fell to US$0.6428, from around US$0.6480.

There is little in the way of market-moving economic data out of Asia. In Europe, Britain's fourth-quarter growth data looms large for the embattled pound.

Annual economic growth is expected to have slowed to 1.9 per cent, from 2.1 per cent, an outcome that could push expectations for a hike in interest rates even further out. Markets are currently pricing in a rate hike in 2017.

Sterling was last at US$1.4256, having retreated from this week's high of US$1.4367.

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