Asian shares gain as dealers eye dollar, yuan

HONG KONG - Asian markets mostly gained in tepid early trade on Friday, as dealers weighed the impact of China's yuan devaluation and the timing of a US interest rate rise.

The dollar traded sideways after advancing on solid US retail figures, which added to hopes the world's largest economy is picking up and fuelled expectations the Federal Reserve will raise rates soon.

Tokyo was flat, Sydney gained 0.11 percent and Seoul ticked up 0.40 percent in early trading.

Hong Kong added 0.15 percent while Shanghai was up 0.55 percent.

China's central bank calmed markets when it said would not let the yuan slump, and on Friday set its rate against the dollar marginally higher than the previous day's close after three days of falls.

The comments, and news the People's Bank of China had intervened to support the Chinese currency, reassured nervous investors after a surprise devaluation of the yuan and two subsequent cuts roiled financial markets.

"It seems capital markets have had their moment of uncertainty and the PBoC seem to have provided just enough clarity around the direction of the CNY (yuan) to appease," said Chris Weston at IG Markets.

"However the probability of less volatility in the Chinese currency should provide support to increased expectations around a September rate hike from the Federal Reserve." Wall Street finished little changed Thursday in choppy trade as retail sales bested expectations, even as leading department stores reported lower profits.

The sales figures added to expectations the US may raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, a move that had been tipped for as early as next month before the yuan devaluation.

Dealers said the expectation of an imminent US rate hike would likely cap any major gains in share markets.

"As yuan concerns dissipate, there's probably room for a short-term rebound in the markets," Nader Naeimi, Sydney-based head of dynamic asset allocation at AMP Capital, told Bloomberg News.

"It's hard to imagine sustainable gains given the prospect of the Fed raising rates soon." In Tokyo forex trade, the dollar fetched 124.44 yen (S$1.39) early Thursday against 124.43 yen in New York late Wednesday.

The euro exchanged hands at US$1.1145 (S$1.56) and 138.69 yen compared with US$1.1152 and 138.77 yen in US trade.

Oil prices were mixed in Asia after slumping to fresh six-year lows in New York on concerns that weaker growth in China could dent demand from the top crude importer.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for September delivery was down 17 cents to US$42.06 and Brent crude for September rose two cents to US$49.24 in morning Asian trade.

Safe-haven gold fetched US$1,113.96 compared to US$1,121.23 late Thursday.