Asia stocks rise as Fed minutes spur optimism; dollar weakens

HONG KONG/TOKYO, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Asian stocks rose and the greenback languished near two-month lows on Thursday after minutes of the US Federal Reserve’s latest meeting showed that policymakers were in no rush to raise interest rates.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.4 percent as investors added to positions after a 14 percent rise over the last two months.

Technology stocks, especially Tencent and Lenovo Group, led the index higher.

Hong Kong shares was the top gainer in Asia with a 1 percent rise, while a stronger yen, thanks to the Fed’s cautious outlook, pulled Japan’s Nikkei back 0.5 percent.

The July meeting minutes released on Wednesday showed that Fed policymakers were generally upbeat about the US economic outlook and labour market. But they also said they wanted to "leave their policy options open", as any slowdown in hiring would argue against near-term monetary tightening.

Market participants interpreted the minutes as moderately positive for risk-taking appetite, with the Fed remaining divided on the timing of the next rate hike. Futures contracts dipped slightly, signaling receding bets of a US rate increase.

"There is clearly strong disagreement within the Fed with regard to the timing of further rate hikes," wrote Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne.

Bond markets greeted the rate Fed minutes with cautious optimism, with the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF poised to set a fresh one-year high.

Ten-year Australian government debt edged lower to 1.92 percent, about 100 basis points down from end-2015.

In currency markets, the dollar was down 0.5 percent at 99.71 yen, nearing a post-Brexit low of 99.55 hit on Tuesday.

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The euro edged up 0.2 percent to $1.131 with the common currency on track to rise more than 1 percent this week.

The dollar index dipped 0.1 percent to 94.49, having lost about 0.7 percent so far this week, during which it touched a 7-week low of 94.426 on Tuesday.

The greenback felt the sting of lower US Treasury yields, which fell overnight following the release of the Fed minutes.

The weaker dollar was an additional help to commodities like crude oil, although oil prices dipped in early trading on the prospect of record Saudi output.

International Brent crude oil futures were at $49.67 per barrel at 0050 GMT, down 18 cents from their last close.

Copper, which had slid on the dollar’s rise earlier in the week, trimmed some of their losses as the US currency flagged. Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange was up 0.25 percent at $4,786 a tonne after losing 0.8 percent on Wednesday.

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