Asia stocks edge higher, dollar languishes on US politics, mixed data
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian stocks inched up on Friday after a technology-led drop on Wall Street, while US Treasury yields and the dollar were pressured by news Special Counsel Robert Mueller had issued grand jury subpoenas in his investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2 percent, although gains were kept in check by the reluctance of many investors to stake out fresh positions ahead of US job data later in the global day. The index was poised to climb 0.3 percent for the week, taking its gains for far this year to nearly 24 percent. Japan's Nikkei dropped 0.3 percent on a stronger yen, and looked set to end the week little changed. South Korea's KOSPI, which closed at a 3-1/2-week low on Thursday, recovered 0.3 percent. It is down 0.4 percent this week. China's blue-chip CSI 300 lost 0.3 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.1 percent. Overnight, the S&P and Nasdaq closed 0.2 percent and 0.35 percent lower respectively, with the declines led by technology shares. But the Dow managed to post slight gains, staying above the 22,000 level breached on Wednesday. US stocks fell to intraday lows late on Thursday after the Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller has empanelled a grand jury to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Two sources told Reuters on Thursday that grand jury has issued subpoenas in connection with a June 2016 meeting that included US President Donald Trump's son, his son-in-law and a Russian lawyer. "Politics come to the forefront once again with the latest developments in the Trump-Russia probe," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore, but added that "equity markets continued with a semblance of calm awaiting Friday’s US jobs report". Investors will scrutinize July's employment report for clues on whether it could influence the timing of the Federal Reserve's plans to tighten monetary policy. Non-farm payrolls were expected to have increased by 183,000 jobs last month after surging by 222,000 in June, Reuters survey of economists found. The unemployment rate is seen falling one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.3 percent. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major peers, languished near the 15-month low hit earlier this week. It was down almost 0.1 percent on Friday at 92.779, set to end the week 0.5 percent lower. The dollar crept up 0.1 percent to 110.125 yen, but failed to make up most of Thursday's 0.6 percent loss. It is on track for a weekly loss of 0.5 percent. Benchmark 10-year notes were at 2.2247 percent on Friday. On Thursday, they fell to as low as 2.218 percent, their lowest level since late June, and closed at 2.228 percent. Sterling hit a nine-month low against the euro overnight, and held near that level on Friday, after the Bank of England's policymakers kept interest rates at a record-low 0.25 percent. "The unsavory combination of uninspiring UK economic data in July and uncertainty surrounding Brexit talks has pressured BoE hawks and dented expectations of a rate hike occurring anytime soon," Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at ForexTime, wrote in a note. "With the central bank downgrading its UK GDP growth forecast for both this year and 2018, sterling is poised for further punishment down the road." Sterling was 0.9041 to the euro on Friday, after falling to as low as 0.9048, its weakest since Nov. 2. That helped lift the FTSE 0.85 percent. A 0.5 percent jump in retail sales in the euro zone in June from May, well above market expectations of a 0.1 percent rise, gave the euro a boost. The common currency was up 0.1 percent to $1.1879, extending Thursday's 0.1 percent gain. It is set to end the week 1.2 percent stronger. Venezuela's bolivar currency tumbled 18 percent against the US dollar on Thursday on the black market, ahead of the inauguration of a legislative superbody that the opposition says will give President Nicolas Maduro sweeping new powers. In commodities, oil prices remained under pressure following losses overnight. Persistent concerns about high crude supplies from OPEC offset the previous day's data showing record US gasoline demand. US crude was marginally higher at $49 a barrel, after sliding 1.1 percent overnight, putting it on track for a weekly loss of 1.4 percent. Global benchmark Brent slipped almost 0.1 percent to $51.96, extending Thursday's 0.7 percent loss, headed for a 1.05 percent weekly decline. Gold was steady, holding on to Thursday's 0.15 percent gain. Spot gold was at $1,268.66 an ounce, after Thursday's 0.15 percent gain, and set to end the week little changed.