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Asian shares scale seven-month highs; oil nears $70 on tight supply

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian shares rose to seven-month highs on Wednesday as investors lapped up signs of progress in U.S.-China trade talks and brisk economic data, while oil approached the key $70 per barrel mark.

FILE PHOTO: A man is seen in front of an electronic board showing stock information on the first day of trading in the Year of the Pig, following the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, at a brokerage house in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.5 percent around 0310 GMT, after earlier touching its highest level since late August.

The index has risen nearly 3 percent since Thursday following reports of progress in trade talks between the United States and China, as well as reassuring factory activity data from China and the U.S.

The run of gains for stock markets worldwide has also pushed MSCI’s key gauge of global equities to a six-month high. The global index was up 0.2 percent on Wednesday morning.

Hopes for a deal to end the trade war between the world’s two largest economies were fanned by fresh comments from White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow that Washington expects “to make more headway” in talks this week.

Even so, analysts struggled to point to a clear catalyst for the extended rally in equities.

“I think there’s a tendency for markets at times to just want to be positive unless you hit them repeatedly, and not just with bad news, but with new bad news,” said Rob Carnell, chief economist and head of Asia-Pacific research at ING in Singapore.

“There’s been an awful lot of bad news priced in. So perhaps the absence of new negatives are enough to allow for a small sense of positivity to creep in,” he said.

Australian shares were up 0.5 percent, and Japan’s Nikkei stock index added 0.8 percent. Chinese blue-chips were flat, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index added 0.7 percent.

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3 percent to 26,179.13 points, the S&P 500 was flat and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.25 percent to 7,848.69.

“After such a strong rise it is no surprise that the risk rally stalled a little,” said Greg McKenna, strategist at McKenna Macro, in a morning note to clients.

But after a brief consolidation in risk sentiment, U.S. Treasury yields were once again ticking higher.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes yielded 2.5027 percent, up from a U.S. close of 2.479 percent on Tuesday, and the two-year yield touched 2.3240 percent compared with a U.S. close of 2.308 percent.

Oil prices also stood near multi-month highs amid concerns about supply, with Brent crude rising as much as 0.72 percent to $69.87 per barrel, its highest since November and near the psychologically important level of $70 per barrel.

It was last up 0.55 percent at $69.75. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose 0.42 percent to $62.84 per barrel.

News that the United States is considering more sanctions against Iran, the fourth-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the halting of production at a crude terminal in Venezuela threatened to squeeze supply and pushed oil prices up on Tuesday.

In currency markets, the pound was about 0.1 percent higher at $1.3139, having recovered its footing after British Prime Minister Theresa May said she would seek another delay to Brexit to work out an European Union divorce deal with opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The dollar strengthened 0.15 percent against the yen to 111.48 and the euro added 0.17 percent to buy $1.1221.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, eased 0.16 percent to 97.206.

Cryptocurrency bitcoin, which surged 18.7 percent on Tuesday following a major order by an anonymous buyer, extended its gains by another 2.6 percent to $5,027.10.

Gold was flat, with spot gold trading at $1,292.67 per ounce.

Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Sam Holmes

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