Asian stocks near 3-year highs on U.S. data

Asian stocks pushed toward a near three-year peak on Monday as the U.S. job market showed further signs of recovery, highlighting a brighter economic outlook, while the dollar eased against a basket of currencies.

South Korea (.KS11) and Japan (.N225) led gains, with the former ending up below a record high and the latter closing at a nine-month peak.

Japan, which is the best performing Asian market this year with year-to-date gains of more than 3 percent, has benefited from a shift into developed markets and generally strong corporate earnings. The index closed up 0.5 percent.

South Korea has seen inflows from investors rotating out of last year’s hot performing emerging markets in South and Southeast Asia due to relatively attractive valuations.

The broader MSCI index of Asian stocks outside Japan was up 0.4 percent to within striking distance of a three-year peak tested in January.

So far this year, Asian stocks have underperformed the MSCI world index by nearly three percentage points due to a variety of factors such as frothy valuations in some markets in South and Southeast Asia and strong data out of the US.

Investors pulled out $7 billion from emerging markets equity funds in the week of February 4, their biggest outflow in three years, data from fund tracker EPFR Global showed, putting a sizeable dent in record inflows seen in this category in 2010.

But indications that Asian authorities are demonstrating greater urgency to tackle inflation, with Indonesia being the latest country to increase interest rates by a quarter point last week, have made investors optimistic about the near-term outlook.

“Policymakers are likely to adopt more administrative measures and front-load rate hikes as inflationary expectations continue to rise,” Barclays Capital strategists said in a note.

Most Asian markets which were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday late last week reopened on Monday with the exception of China, where trading will not resume until Wednesday.