(Reuters) – Asian stocks were up slightly in a cautious start to the week on Monday, with investors holding out hopes that China would take steps to stimulate its economy.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan tacked on 0.3 percent after rising to a three-week high on Friday on heightened speculation Beijing will launch new spending measures and on reduced tensions in Ukraine.
Tokyo’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.4 percent.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang on Friday sought to reassure jittery global investors that Beijing was ready to support the cooling economy, saying the government had the necessary policies in place and would push ahead with infrastructure investment.
China stimulus hopes were unable to shore up all equity markets in Asia, however, with South Korea’s KOSPI trading nearly flat.
“It’s difficult for the market to solely move on talks about stimulus with no concrete plan to back them up,” said Kim Yong-goo, an analyst at Samsung Securities in Seoul.
The euro lingered near a one-month low hit against the dollar on Friday after an unexpected drop in Spanish and German inflation bolstered expectations the European Central Bank could further ease monetary policy as early as Thursday.
“It all depends on whether the ECB views the recent slowdown as a temporary pullback or a deeper problem. Given the abundance of policymakers talking about the possibility of negative rates, we believe they are growing more concerned about growth and inflation,” Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York, wrote in a note to clients.
The euro was already under pressure after suggestions of more ECB action last week from Germany – whose policymakers have in the past repeatedly voiced concerns about unorthodox monetary easing.
The focus now turns to euro zone inflation figures due later in the global session in light of Friday’s weak Spanish and German inflation data.
The euro was little changed at $1.3752 after hitting a one-month low of $1.3704 on Friday.
YELLEN, U.S. DATA EYED
The dollar drew support from a rise in U.S. Treasury yields amid hopes that the Federal Reserve will taper its massive monetary easing and pave the way for an eventual rate hike.
Yields of intermediate-dated Treasury notes neared two-month highs on Friday. The sustained pressure on yields follows comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen earlier this month that raised the possibility of rate hikes starting as early as the spring of 2015.
Yellen will speak in Chicago later in the session and the focus is on whether she maintains her stance on rates, which the market has interpreted as hawkish.
Investors will also have a chance to begin gauging whether the frigid winter was really the key cause behind the string of soft U.S. data seen earlier this year, with the March Chicago PMI due later in the session.
The dollar was nearly flat at 102.83 yen, hovering below a two-week peak of 102.98 reached on Friday.
In the commodities markets, gold remained under pressure amid an improvement in risk appetite following upbeat U.S. consumer spending data that brightened prospects for the economy.
Spot gold traded at $1,295.61 an ounce, near a six-week low of $1,285.34 hit on Friday.
Prospects for Chinese stimulus lifted copper, but the metal was still on track to close March with its biggest monthly fall since June as the world’s second-largest economy is still expected to face a slow first quarter.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange briefly touched a three-week high of $6,680.00 a tonne, but prices are still on track to close the month down about 5 percent.
Simmering tensions between Russia and the West and disruptions to African oil supplies helped U.S. crude trade near a three-week high.
U.S. crude for May delivery edged down 22 cents to $101.45 a barrel after settling on Friday at its highest since March 7.