April 30, 2018 / 6:33 AM / 22 days ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Asian shares climb as Korea tensions ease, US data eyed

(Updates levels throughout)

* MSCI Asia-ex Japan up 1 pct, KOSPI up 0.8 pct

* Spreadbetters point to firm European start

* Jitters over whether strong corporate earnings can continue

* China-U.S. trade talks, U.S. data in focus this week

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY, April 30 (Reuters) - Asian shares extended gains on Monday as tensions in the Korean Peninsula eased and first-quarter earnings shone, although some investors were cautious about the outlook amid the backdrop of a simmering U.S.-China trade dispute.

Spread-betters pointed to a strong start for European shares with FTSE futures up 0.2 percent. E-Minis for the S&P 500 gained 0.3 percent while Dow futures added 0.3 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan climbed 1 percent, adding to a similar rise on Friday. The index is now poised for a modest rise this month after two consecutive losses.

South Korea’s KOSPI index jumped 0.8 percent and is set to end April more than 2.5 percent higher following record profits from tech giant Samsung Electronics and after a spectacularly successful inter-Korean summit.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 1.6 percent, Australia’s benchmark index rose 0.5 percent while New Zealand shares gave up early losses to be up 0.9 percent.

Liquidity was low on Monday with Japan, China and India on holiday and much of Asia closed on Tuesday.

Overall, stocks continue to be supported by strong first quarter corporate earnings. More than half of Wall Street’s S&P 500 companies have reported and 79.4 percent have beaten consensus estimates.

But investors have grown increasingly jittery with the U.S. Federal Reserve signalling faster rate rises this year and the European Central Bank seen likely to end its generous bond-buying programme soon.

“The key question for 2018 remains to what extent can the benign environment persist?” said Jacob Mitchell, Chief Investment Officer of Australian investment boutique Antipodes which has A$7 billion in assets under management.

Global shares had a dream run in 2017 helped by the first synchronous world growth in decades coupled with easy monetary policies in most of the developed world.

“We believe the unusually favourable goldilocks combination of accelerating growth and tepid inflation experienced in 2017 will not repeat,” Mitchell added.

“Instead, normalisation of interest rate policy will likely upset the rhythm with more volatile and less forgiving markets.”

Indeed, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index is almost flat so far in 2018 compared with a more than 13 percent jump in the same period last year.

GEOPOLITICS

Investors will turn their focus to a torrent of data from the United States this week including consumer spending later in the day, the Fed’s policy decision on Wednesday, and a jobs report on Friday.

Separately, a delegation of U.S. officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump’s top economic and trade advisers - Larry Kudlow, Robert Lighthizer and Peter Navarro are all expected in China later this week for trade negotiations.

The U.S.-China relationship had turned sour earlier this year when Trump announced stiff tariffs on some Chinese imports, setting off a tit-for-tat response from Beijing.

Political tensions in the Korean Peninsula are also showing signs of easing, following a historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in last week at which they vowed “complete denuclearization”.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that he told Kim that the North Korea leader would have to agree to take “irreversible” steps toward abandoning nuclear weapons if he was to reach a deal with Trump.

In currencies, sterling held near two-month lows as Britain’s interior minister resigned - adding to the considerable troubles of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government.

The pound was last buying $1.3778, after falling 0.9 percent on Friday when disappointing economic growth data challenged expectations the Bank of England would raise rates in May. A couple of weeks ago it had been as high as $1.4377.

“The GDP print missed the already-lowered-expectations and May quickly repriced to around a 25 percent chance of a hike,” wrote analysts at Citi in a note.

“We do not expect a hike next month and expect a more dovish meeting than is currently anticipated.”

The U.S. dollar was barely changed after retreating on Friday, with its index against six major peers at 91.54.

The euro also trod water at $1.2128, while the dollar inched up on the yen to 109.18 though it has had a tough time trying to break resistance at 109.50.

Oil prices eased from recent highs with Brent crude futures off 45 cents at $74.19 a barrel, while U.S. crude lost 28 cents to $67.82.

Spot gold reversed early gains to be down 0.2 percent at$1,319.23 an ounce.

Reporting by Swati Pandey and Wayne Cole; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Sam Holmes

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