* MSCI ex-Japan at highest since late January
* Australia, South Korea lead gains; Chinese shares in red
* Dollar at 27-month low on easy monetary policy
* Fed meeting minutes awaited
SYDNEY, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Asian shares climbed to a seven-month peak on Wednesday tracking the S&P 500, which scaled all-time highs driven by ever expanding policy stimulus aimed at cushioning the blow to economies from the coronavirus pandemic.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside of Japan rose 0.3%, up for a third straight day to 570.80 points, a level not seen since late January.
The gains were driven by Australian shares, up 0.8% and South Korea, which added 0.6%. Japan’s Nikkei nudged up too though Chinese shares started weaker with the blue-chip CSI300 index off 0.7%.
Overnight, both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite set records soon after the opening bell following strong sales growth reported by major U.S. retailers including Walmart, Kohl’s and Home Depot.
The closely-watched S&P 500 topped an all-time peak reached in February just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic drove the benchmark index to lows on March 23. The index has surged about 55% since then.
At just 126 days, that “is the fastest bear market recovery ever,” said Tapas Strickland, economist at Melbourne-based National Australia Bank.
Nasdaq clocked its 18th record closing high since early June.
The U.S. Federal Reserve’s intervention in financial markets to maintain liquidity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has pushed risk assets to all-time highs and reduced demand for safe-havens, weakening the greenback.
Market optimism was also buoyed by data showing an acceleration in U.S. homebuilding to the most in nearly four years in July, signifying that the housing sector is emerging as one of the few areas of strength.
In addition, hopes of an interim fiscal package were re-ignited overnight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicating a willingness to cut their proposals in order to seal a deal, NAB’s Strickland noted. Markets were also paying close attention to minutes from the Fed’s recent meeting due later in the day “for any hints on what the Fed could announce regarding forward guidance come September,” Strickland said.
The Fed has cut rates to near zero to bolster business through the pandemic, sending the dollar to a 27-month low.
The dollar index was last unchanged at 92.23 from above-100 in March. The safe haven Japanese yen was a tad firmer at 107.51 versus the greenback.
The risk-sensitive Australian dollar traded near $0.7255, while the kiwi last bought $0.6611.
Gold flirted with key charted resistance of $2,000 an ounce to be last at $1,998.
U.S. gold futures were a shade weaker at $2,005.2.
Oil prices skidded as concerns grew that U.S. fuel demand may not recover quickly.
Brent crude down 26 cents at 45.20 and U.S. crude off 18 cents at $42.71.
Reporting by Swati Pandey in Sydney and Chibuike Oguh in New York; Editing by Sam Holmes
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