HONG KONG- Asian markets rose Friday after Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen provided an upbeat view of the US economy and hinted the bank could ease up on its stimulus taper if the growth outlook weakens.
The comments provided the platform for a record close on Wall Street, while forex traders sold the dollar on the possibility that the bank’s bond-buying could continue for longer.
Tokyo added 0.10 percent and Hong Kong added 0.64 percent in early trade, Shanghai rose 0.16 percent and Sydney put on 0.30 percent. Seoul was flat.
Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that central bank policymakers thought severe weather across much of the country was to blame for a disappointing run of economic data over the past two months, including on jobs, industrial output and consumption.
However, she said they would be keeping a close eye on the economy to see if the weak figures continue, which could lead to a slower pace of cuts to the stimulus programme.
Each of the Fed’s past two meetings have seen it cut its bond purchases by $10 billion a month, to a current $65 billion.
“What we need to do and will be doing in the weeks ahead is to try to get a firmer handle on exactly how much of that set of soft data can be explained by weather and what portion, if any, is due to softer outlook,” said Yellen, who as vice chair was a cheerleader for the scheme.
Analysts said her hint that the taper could be flexible, and her stronger statement that unemployment remains a big problem, suggests less of a determination to push ahead with policy tightening than was evident a few months ago.
“The jury is still out on whether the cold weather is to blame… but (stock) markets’ interpretation of Yellen’s comments was positive,” said SMBC Nikko Securities general manager of equities Hiroichi Nishi.
On Wall Street the S&P 500 climbed 0.49 percent to a new record while the Dow rose 0.46 percent. The Nasdaq ended 0.63 percent higher, at its best level since the dot-com crash of 2000.
Yellen’s comments also put pressure on the dollar, as a continuation of the Fed’s money printing would mean more cash in financial markets.
In Tokyo the greenback dipped to 101.01 yen, compared with 102.15 yen in New York Thursday.
The euro bought 139.75 yen and $1.3712 against 140.05 yen and $1.3710.
While the strong yen usually weighs on Japanese exporters, the Nikkei index was given support from some positive economic results.
Official data showed consumer inflation saw a year-on-year rise for the eighth straight month in January — largely on higher energy bills — while factory output rose 4.0 percent on-month.
New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for April delivery, eased 40 cents to $102.00 in early Asian trading, while Brent North Sea crude for April also slid 18 cents to $108.78.
Gold fetched $1,331.00 an ounce at 0210 GMT, compared to $1,324.17 late Thursday.