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Cautious Fed lifts stocks to record high, investors eye earnings boost

Cautious Fed lifts stocks to record high, investors eye earnings boost
July 14, 2017

SINGAPORE - Global stocks scaled record highs on Friday, with Asian equities rising for the fifth straight session, as signs the Federal Reserve will pursue a gradual rate tightening path and hopes of a strong earnings season lifted appetite for risk assets.

The MSCI World Index was marginally higher early on Friday, just a whisker below an all-time intraday high hit earlier. It is on track to end the week 1.6 percent higher. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan advanced 0.3 percent to its highest level in two years. It's set for a 3.3 percent gain for the week.

Japan's Nikkei added 0.15 percent, poised for a weekly rise of 1 percent. Chinese shares bucked the positive trend, with the CSI 300 index falling marginally, and the Shanghai Composite down 0.15 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.2 percent.

Wall Street edged higher on Thursday, with the major indexes up between 0.1 and 0.2 percent, as stocks basked in comments by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen that the central bank's rate hikes could be gradual, given persistently low inflation despite an improving economy.

Expectations that S&P 500 companies will report second-quarter earnings growth of 7.8 percent also supported stocks. Major banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo, will report results on Friday.

"The US profit reporting season looks likely to be a key market driver over the next couple of weeks," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, wrote in a note.

"Full valuations suggest that the market is yet again going into this reporting season anticipating results to outperform consensus analyst expectations." In Asia, markets are also expecting strong earnings, particularly for many of the export-reliant firms benefiting from an upturn in global demand.

The dollar pulled up 0.2 percent to 113.51 yen on Friday, narrowing losses for the week to 0.3 percent. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was fractionally higher at 95.78, on track for a 0.2 percent weekly decline.

"Yellen gave some hope to the dollar bulls with her acknowledgement of the improvements in the economy, but at the end of the day investors are still skeptical of what data is going to be like," said Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York. "That's why you have not seen much in the way of additional follow through in dollar demand."

The dollar was also supported by data showing the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week for the first time in a month and producer prices unexpectedly rose in June.

Investors are awaiting a host of US economic indicators, including core inflation, retail sales and industrial production for June later in the session for more insight into how the Fed might proceed with monetary policy tightening this year. But political concerns in the US may once again vex investors, as a revised Senate plan to dismantle Obamacare drew criticism from both Republican and Democratic senators.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was forced two weeks ago to scrap a planned vote on an earlier version, has planned for a vote on the retooled bill next week. The euro was up almost 0.1 percent at $1.14055 on Friday, after inching down 0.1 percent overnight, and is set to end the week flat.

The European Central Bank is likely to signal in September that its bond-buying scheme will be gradually wound down next year and ECB chief Mario Draghi could give the next clue on the plans in late August, the Wall Street Journal said on Thursday.

The Canadian dollar remained near its strongest in over a year after the Bank of Canada this week raised interest rates for the first time since 2010, with further tightening expected this year.

The loonie was about 0.1 percent weaker early on Friday at C$1.2729 to the dollar but is up 1.1 percent this week. In commodities, oil crept lower as high fuel inventories revived concerns about a supply glut but losses were limited by data that showed China's oil imports in the first half of 2017 rose 14 percent from a year earlier.

US crude slipped 0.15 percent to $46.02 a barrel, after rising 1.3 percent on Thursday. It is poised for a 4 percent gain this week. Global benchmark Brent inched down 0.1 percent to $48.38 following Thursday's 1.4 percent jump, and is headed for a 3.6 percent gain this week. Gold inched down slightly to $1,216.1899 an ounce, heading for a 0.3 percent gain for the week. -Reuters