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Equities

Nikkei Asia300 Index gains ahead of key US inflation data

Upbeat economic reports from Malaysia, Singapore boost equities

MUMBAI (NewsRise) -- Asian stocks outside of Japan advanced Wednesday ahead of the release of a keenly watched U.S. inflation data. Upbeat economic reports from Malaysia and Singapore boosted the appetite for equities.

The Nikkei Asia300 Index rose 1.1% to 1,429.81, marking its third day of gains.

The U.S. retail inflation report due later Wednesday assumes importance in the wake of recent comments by the Federal Reserve that inflation could be headed higher this year. Such concerns contributed to a jump in volatility for bond and equity markets last week, while long-term Treasury yields hardened. A higher-than-expected data would mean the recovery witnessed in U.S. equities over the last three sessions may prove to be brief.

The U.S. currency was struggling before the inflation data, as the dollar index headed for a third day of losses. The yen strengthened to its highest level against the dollar in more than a year, prompting remarks from Japan's top government spokesman that it is watching moves in the currency markets with a "sense of urgency," according to a Reuters report.

Meanwhile, Singapore and Malaysia's economic growth in the December quarter topped expectations.

Among major movers, Singapore Airlines rose 5% after saying its third-quarter net profit jumped 62% on year.

Singapore lenders United Overseas Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. dropped at least 2.2% each following their quarterly earnings. UOB reported a 16% increase for the December quarter, slightly below expectations of analysts polled by Reuters. OCBC reported a better-than-expected 31% increase in net profit for same period. Both lenders continued to be cautious on their exposure to oil and gas companies, saying they had made further allowances for their exposure to the sector.

South Korea's Lotte Corp. tumbled 6% and Lotte Shopping slid 2.3% after Lotte Group's chairman was jailed for bribing a confidante of the country's former president. According to a Reuters report, the company said that the ruling was unexpected, and it was worried that it could adversely affect a planned IPO of Lotte's hotel unit.

U.S.-listed Chinese technology major Baidu in early Asian hours reported a better-than-expected 29% increase in December quarter revenues. Operating profit jumped 118%. For the current quarter, it forecast a revenue increase of 25% to 32%. In extended U.S. trading, the shares were trading 7% higher.

State Bank of India dropped 3.7% and ICICI Bank lost 2.6% in Mumbai after the Indian central bank tightened rules for resolution of bad debt, which analysts said will lead to an increase in provisions and hurt profits

In country indexes compiled by Nikkei, China rose 2.3% and Hong Kong added 1.9%. South Korea rose 1.7% while Taiwan climbed 0.9%. India's gauge lost 0.3%.

The Nikkei Asia300 ASEAN Index of Southeast Asian companies ended little changed.

--Nimesh Vora

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