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Dollar index wallows at three-year lows, euro buoyed by ECB taper hopes

The dollar languished at three-year lows against a basket of currencies on Monday, while the euro stood tall on investors' hopes that European Central Bank policymakers could be poised to further trim their monetary stimulus.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, slipped 0.2 percent to 90.807 (DXY) after falling as far as 90.773 earlier in the session, its lowest since January 2015.

The euro added 0.1 percent to $1.2206 , in sight of a peak of $1.2218 on Friday, its highest since December 2014, leaving some strategists to ponder where its next top might be.

"I think the strength of the euro is overdone," said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities.

"The strength of the euro itself will delay the ECB's normalization. The ECB is conducting verbal tightening, so they don't need to move on interest rates."

Against the yen, the dollar slipped to its lowest levels since mid-September, as comments from Japan's central bank governor highlighted Japan's economic recovery.

While Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda reiterated the central bank's resolve to maintain its massive stimulus program until 2 percent inflation is achieved stably, he also said the country's economy was expected to continue moderately expanding.

Core consumer prices are rising around 1 percent, Kuroda said in a speech to BOJ regional branch managers. This was a slight change from his previous speech to branch managers, when he said core consumer prices were around zero.

The dollar was 0.3 percent lower at 110.73 yen , after earlier falling as far as 110.63.

"We continue to see dollar/yen sellers, to be honest," said Bart Wakabayashi, branch manager for State Street Bank in Tokyo.

"Let's see if we start to see some rumblings from Japanese officials, about yen strength," he said. "We might see some comments to calm market expectations of yen strength."

Sterling edged up 0.1 percent to $1.3739 , probing its highest levels against the dollar since the Brexit vote in June, 2016.

The British currency jumped on Friday, after a media report that the Netherlands and Spain were open to a deal for Britain to remain as close as possible to the European Union.

The pound shrugged off a denial from officials from the Spanish and Dutch finance ministries, who said there was no new agreement between the countries on how Britain should leave the EU.

Speculators' net short dollar positions rose in the latest week through Jan. 9 to their largest since mid-October, according to calculations by Reuters and Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released on Friday.

Asian shares hit historic highs

Asian shares hit historic highs on Monday after Wall Street extended its record-breaking run, while the U.S. dollar retreat continued as investors priced in the risk of tighter policies elsewhere in the developed world.

Activity was restrained somewhat as a U.S. holiday curbed trade in cash Treasuries, though E-Mini futures for the S&P500 still made gains of 0.26 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.7 percent, having finally cleared the former all-time top of 591.50 from late 2007.

Australia's main index firmed 0.1 percent, while Japan's Nikkei added 0.3 percent.

Stocks in Hong Kong jumped 0.9 percent from Friday's record closing high. Investors were optimistic that Chinese gross domestic product data for the December quarter due on Thursday would show growth of at least 6.7 percent for the world's second biggest economy.

Wall Street was on a roll as the fourth-quarter earnings season kicked off with solid results from banks and robust retail sales, driving investor optimism about economic growth.

The Dow amassed gains of 2 percent last week, while the Nasdaq gained 1.8 percent and the S&P 500 1.6 percent. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq scored eight record closing highs out of the first nine trading days of 2018, while the Dow boasted its sixth closing high of the year.

Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to increase on average by 12.1 percent in the quarter, with profit for financial services companies likely to increase 13.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"The big consensus trade of being short U.S. dollars into 2018 and long European and U.S. financials continues to work in earnest and this remains the key focal point in the week ahead," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at broker IG.

"The decline in the USD index was actually the biggest sell-off since 27 June, with prices closing below the Sept. 8 low. It just shows how much sway the USD bears have right now."


The dollar index showed no sign of bouncing early on Monday, instead edging down to a fresh trough at 90.622.

The euro was up at a three-year peak of $1.2241 and holding all of Friday's 1.3 percent surge.

The single currency has been bolstered by speculation European Central Bank policymakers are preparing to temper their vast monetary stimulus campaign.

Also helping was news German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party and the Social Democrats (SD) were moving toward formal coalition talks.

Leading members of the Social Democrats said on Sunday they would press for improvements to the coalition blueprint, seeking to win over skeptical party members who can torpedo the deal.

The dollar slipped to a six-week low on the yen at 110.73 yen, even as the head of the Bank of Japan reiterated his commitment to keeping yields low.

The Chinese yuan hit hit a two-year high of 6.4155 per dollar in offshore trade.

The pound was at its highest since mid-2016 at $1.3741, while the Canadian dollar held firm on wagers the country's central bank would hike interest rates at a policy meeting on Wednesday. [CAD/]

A softening U.S. dollar combined with resilient Chinese demand has been positive for most commodity prices.

Gold hit a four-month top of $1,344.7.

Oil prices consolidated following six straight sessions of gains, with output cuts led by OPEC and Russia as well as healthy demand keeping crude near December 2014 highs. [O/R]

Brent crude futures ticked up 12 cents to $69.99 a barrel, while U.S. crude rose 22 cents to $64.52.

Oil Stays At 3-Year Highs as U.S. Crude Stocks Fall More Than Forecast

Crude prices held on to gains on Wednesday, staying close to their strongest level in around three years after data showed U.S. oil supplies fell more than forecast last week.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that crude oil inventories fell by 4.9 million barrels in the week ended Jan. 5. That compared with analysts' expectations for a decline of 3.9 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday reported a supply-drop of 11.2 million barrels.

Supplies at Cushing, Oklahoma, the key delivery point for Nymex crude, decreased by 2.4 million barrels last week, the EIA said.

Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 419.5 million barrels as of last week, which the EIA considered to be in the middle of the average range for this time of year.

U.S. crude oil production fell by 290,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 9.49 million bpd.

The report also showed that gasoline inventories increased by 4.1 million barrels, much higher than expectations for a gain of 2.6 million barrels. For distillate inventories including diesel, the EIA reported a rise of 4.3 million barrels.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures tacked on 32 cents, or about 0.5%, to $63.28 a barrel by 10:40AM ET (1540GMT). Prices were at around $63.34 prior to the release of the inventory data.

Meanwhile, Brent crude futures, the benchmark for oil prices outside the U.S., were at $68.95 a barrel, up 11 cents from their last close. The contract rose to its best level since May 2015 earlier.

Oil prices continue to benefit from production cut efforts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia. The producers agreed in December to extend current oil output cuts until the end of 2018.

The deal to cut oil output by 1.8 million barrels a day (bpd) was adopted last winter by OPEC, Russia and nine other global producers. The agreement was due to end in March 2018, having already been extended once.

In other energy trading, gasoline futures lost 1.4 cents, or 0.8%, to $1.831 a gallon, while heating oil was unchanged at $2.070 a gallon.

Natural gas futures shed 2.2 cents, or 0.8%, to $2.899 per million British thermal units. Prices have gained around 5% so far this week as investors reacted to the severe winter storm hitting much of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Wall Street falls on China, NAFTA concerns

Wall Street's major stock indexes pared earlier losses on Wednesday while U.S. Treasury yields fell from their peak as investor skepticism grew about a report that China would slow purchases of U.S. government bonds.

Financial stocks were still the biggest percentage gainers by late afternoon, however, as investors reacted to the Bloomberg report on China, the world's biggest holder of U.S. Treasuries.

The S&P 500 pared some losses after falling as much as 0.6 percent after the report, which also pushed the dollar down.

"As the day wore on, Treasury yields started to move lower on the realization the story doesn't have any legs. That's definitely helped equities. There's no way on earth the Chinese stop buying U.S. Treasuries," said Robert Pavlik, chief investment strategist, SlateStone Wealth in New York.

The S&P also dipped on a Reuters report saying Canada is increasingly convinced President Donald Trump will soon announce the United States intends to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The report cited two unnamed government sources.

At 2:47 p.m. (1947 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was down 30 points, or 0.12 percent, to 25,355.8, the S&P 500 (SPX) had lost 6.01 points, or 0.22 percent, to 2,745.28 and the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC) had dropped 25.29 points, or 0.35 percent, to 7,138.29.

The China report put the S&P and the Nasdaq on track to snap a six-day run of record closing highs as investors worried that the market was overdue for a correction.

"It's a reflection of investor weariness and awareness that the market has risen for four straight months without seeing a major pullback," said Pavlik. "They're on alert in case something develops."

The S&P financial index (SPSY) was last up 0.8 percent, helped by gains in Wells Fargo (N:WFC), Berkshire Hathaway (N:BRKa) and JPMorgan (N:JPM).

Banks and insurance companies often rise with bond yields as investors expect a profit boost from higher interest rates.

Rate-sensitive sectors such as utilities (SPLRCU) and real estate <.SPLRCREC> were the biggest percentage losers of the S&P's 11 major sectors.

The China report weakened the dollar (DXY), which was last down 0.2 percent, while safe-haven commodity gold jumped to its highest in four months.

Investors started the New year optimistic about global growth prospects and with high expectations for a strong U.S. quarterly earnings season which kicks off on Friday with reports from big banks.

Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to increase by 11.8 percent, with the biggest contribution from the energy sector, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Berkshire Hathaway (N:BRKb) rose 1.2 percent after the conglomerate promoted two top executives, cementing their status as the most likely successors to Warren Buffett.

Shares of Lennar Corp (N:LEN) gained 2 percent as No.2 U.S. homebuilder's orders and total revenue rose more than expected in the fourth quarter.

The Dow Jones Transport index (DJT), often seen as a gauge of the economy's health, pared its gains and was last up 0.1 percent after climbing as much as 0.7 percent following United Continental's (N:UAL) report of higher traffic for December.

Department store operator Kohl's (N:KSS) rose about 3.2 percent after two brokerages raised their price targets.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.72-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.18-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 74 new 52-week highs and seven new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 90 new highs and 23 new lows.

Asian shares step back from 2007 peak, oil at three-year high

Asian shares flinched from testing their 2007 record peak on Wednesday, as investors booked profits in high-tech shares while oil prices hit three-year highs due to production cuts and a fall in inventories.

European shares are expected to dip slightly with Germany's Dax futures down 0.2 percent and France's Cac futures and Britain's FTSE futures down 0.1 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.5 percent after six straight days of gains until Tuesday, that had taken it within a stone's throw from the record high touched in November 2007.

Information technology shares led the decline with a 1.4 percent fall as Samsung Electronics (KS:005930) extended losses. The tech company's profit guidance disappointed investors and raised worries the memory chip boom may be coming to an end.

Japan's Nikkei also shed 0.3 percent, slipping from 26-year highs hit the day before.

"The rally has been a bit too fast. Investors are taking profits in high-flying hi-tech shares. But the earnings and economic outlook in Asia remains solid," said Yukino Yamada, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Indeed, expectations of solid corporate profit growth helped

Wall Street's major indexes extend the New Year rally to record levels for a sixth day on Tuesday.

"U.S. fourth-quarter earnings are expected to rise more than 10 percent from the previous year. The market has been supported by the consensus that the goldilocks economy will continue while the Fed will raise interest rates only slowly," said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

Profits for S&P 500 companies are expected to rise 11.8 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with an 8-percent increase a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Some investors said risk sentiment had been boosted by an apparent easing in tensions in the Korean peninsula after North and South Korea agreed to future talks in their first official dialogue in more than two years.

Washington welcomed what it said was a first step to solving the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis, even though Pyongyang said those were aimed only at the United States and not up for discussion with Seoul.

In the currency market, the yen maintained the gains it made the previous day after the Bank of Japan trimmed the amount of its buying in long-dated bonds.

While the move was in line with the BOJ's subtle reduction in its bond buying over the past year, the so-called 'stealth tapering', the reaction highlighted how sensitive markets are to a pullback in Japan's massive stimulus.

"I don't think yesterday's operation is a hint of a policy change. But it highlighted the fact that unwinding of central bank stimulus will be a main theme this year. We could see more moves like this," said a currency trader at a U.S. bank.

The Japanese government bond yield ticked up to 0.080 percent, the top of its range in the past several months.

The euro eased to $1.1945, compared to $1.2028 at the end of last week, due to profit-taking following the common currency's big gains late last year.

The BOJ's move also helped to raise the 10-year U.S. bond yield above its December high to 2.573 percent, the highest since March last year, from 2.482 percent late on Monday.

Oil prices extended gains, with U.S. crude futures hitting a three-year high on a tight supply balance due to OPEC-led production cuts and a sharper fall in U.S. crude inventories.

The American Petroleum Institute said late on Tuesday crude inventories fell by 11.2 million barrels in the week to Jan. 5 to 416.6 million, far bigger than analysts' expectations for a decrease of 3.9 million barrels. [API/S]

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude traded at $63.49 a barrel, up 0.9 percent for the day, after having risen as high as $63.53 earlier.

Brent crude rose 0.6 percent to $69.22 per barrel, staying near its highest level since mid 2015.

Rising oil prices could fan inflation down the road, which could be detrimental to some countries that have been prone to high inflation.

Still, China's December producer prices grew at their slowest pace in 13 months as the government's stepped-up war against winter smog dented factory demand for raw materials.

The producer price index (PPI) in December rose 4.9 percent from a year earlier, compared with 5.8 percent in November, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Wednesday.

JP Morgan’s Dimon backsteps; regrets calling bitcoin a fraud

Almost four months after calling bitcoin a “fraud”, JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon backstepped on Tuesday and admitted “regretting” that call.

At a banking conference in September, Dimon condemned the cryptocurrency, calling it a “fraud” and something that murderers and drug dealers would use.

“If we had a trader who traded bitcoin I’d fire him in a second for two reasons,” he stated at the conference in New York.

“One, it’s against our rules. Two, it’s stupid,” he proclaimed.

“It’s a fraud and honestly I’m just shocked anyone can’t see it for what it is,” Dimon added.

However, Dimon appeared to soften his attack in an interview with FOX Business when referencing those earlier comments.

“I regret making them,” he admitted.

Dimon did say that he was “not interested in the subject at all”, but admitted that blockchain technology, the ledger system that keeps track of cryptocurrencies, was “real”.

However, he did warn that initial coin offerings (ICOs) should be reviewed individually.

Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency with a market cap of $259.16 billion, soared more than 1,300% in 2017 and has gained 256% since the Dimon’s September comments.

Bitcoin was last down 3.83%, or $587.00, on the Bitfinex exchange to trade at $14,7588.00 by 7:27AM ET (12:27GMT) Tuesday, even as its second place rival Ethereum rallied to fresh record highs.

Asian shares edge up, yen jumps as BOJ trims bond buying

Asian shares pared gains on Tuesday, pulling away from the cusp of a record high, while the yen stole the currency spotlight and jumped after the Bank of Japan's slight reduction to its bond purchases reminded investors that it will eventually normalize policy.

European stock futures were slightly lower, suggesting a subdued opening for the region, with DAX futures slightly higher and FTSE futures up 0.2 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was nearly flat in afternoon trade after earlier rising as high as 591.28, not far from its record peak of 591.50 scaled in November 2007.

South Korea's share market erased its gains and slipped 0.1 percent, dragged lower by a 3.1 percent drop in shares of Samsung Electronics (KS:005930) Co.

Samsung's guidance fell short of market expectations despite a forecast for a record fourth-quarter profit, as a strong won and one-off staff bonuses took the shine off surging DRAM chip prices.

The MSCI tech index for Asia slipped 0.1 percent, after it had gained more than 5 percent this year.

On Wall Street on Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down 0.05 percent, the S&P 500 gained 0.17 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.29 percent. After the best start to a year in more than a decade, investors turned cautious ahead of earnings.

Japan's Nikkei stock index added 0.6 percent to close at its highest level since November 1991, catching up to the previous session's gains as markets reopened after a holiday on Monday.

Against the yen, the dollar erased its early modest gains and fell 0.3 percent to 112.74 following a drop as low as 112.50, after Japan's central bank trimmed its purchases of Japanese government bonds (JGBs).

Since it adopted the yield curve control policy in 2016, the BOJ has made similar tweaks to its JGB purchases, which are regarded as mainly technical moves. On Tuesday, it cut its JGB purchases of 10 to 25 years left to maturity and those of 25 to 40 years to maturity by 10 billion yen ($88.39 million) each, from its previous operations for those zones.

While the central bank's operational adjustments do not usually have an impact on foreign exchange markets, dealers said the timing of the move suggested some players had used it as an excuse to sell the dollar and the euro against the yen.

"Major central banks around the world have begun to normalize policy, and the BOJ's adjustments today reminded the market that someday it will, too," said Ayako Sera, senior market economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust.

The euro edged down 0.1 percent to $1.1960, shy of its nearly four-month high of $1.2089 set on Thursday. Against the yen, it skidded 0.4 percent to 134.81

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rival currencies, edged down slightly to 92.326.

Underpinning the dollar, investors bet on further U.S. interest rate hikes after Friday's payrolls data did nothing to challenge the outlook for monetary policy tightening by the U.S. Federal Reserve. While job growth slowed more than expected, a pick-up in monthly wages pointed to labour market strength.

"Broadly, viewed in context, it was still a reasonably strong labour market," said Bill Northey, chief investment officer at the private client group of U.S. Bank in Helena, Montana.

"There was nothing in there to dissuade us from the view that the Fed will move again, appropriately, likely in March," he said.

But the dollar's upward momentum was tempered as investors differed on the pace of tightening while U.S. inflation remains relatively cool.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, who is a voting member of the central bank's policy board, said on Monday that only two increases might be needed in 2018, in light of weak price pressures.

Crude oil prices firmed to their highest since May 2015, as political concerns in some OPEC nations offset projections for higher U.S. oil production. [O/R]

U.S. crude rose 44 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $62.17 a barrel, while Brent crude added 35 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $68.13.

Spot gold was down 0.2 percent at $1,318.45 an ounce, pulling back from a 3-1/2-month high hit last week. [GOL/]

U.S. oil prices hit highest since 2015, but doubts loom over rally

U.S. oil prices hit their highest since 2015 again on Tuesday as speculators bet on further price rises amid OPEC-led production cuts and a dip in American drilling activity, though some warned the rally could run out of steam.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $62.16 a barrel at 0751 GMT - 43 cents, or 0.7 percent, above their last settlement. They earlier matched a May-2015 high of $62.56 a barrel.

Beyond equaling that 2015 high, which was a short intra-day spike, Tuesday's peak was the strongest level for WTI since December, 2014, at the start of the oil market slump.

Brent crude futures were at $68.11 a barrel, 33 cents, or 0.5 percent, above their last close. Brent touched $68.27 last week, its highest since May, 2015.

Traders said prices were mainly being driven by speculative money being poured into crude futures on the notion of a tighter market following a year of production cuts led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia, which are set to last through 2018.

"Speculators continued to increase their net long in ICE Brent ... According to exchange data, speculators increased their position by 4,175 lots to leave them with a record net long of 565,459 lots," ING bank said.

A slight dip in the amount of rigs in the United States drilling for new oil was supporting WTI, traders said.

The number of rigs drilling for oil fell by 5 to 742 in the week to Jan. 5, according to oil services firm Baker Hughes.


Despite the recent bull run, which has lifted crude prices by more than 10 percent since early December, some warn that markets are getting ahead of themselves.

The U.S. rig-count remains significantly above the low of 316 in June, 2016, and U.S. crude output is expected to break through 10 million barrels per day (bpd) soon, hitting a level that only Russia and Saudi Arabia have achieved so far.

"U.S. crude oil production is still increasing, so surely this evidences that the system is, once again, becoming even more efficient," said Matt Stanley, a fuel broker with Freight Investor Services (FIS) in Dubai.

In Asia, the world's biggest oil consuming region, there were also signs that despite the cuts in crude production, fuel supplies remain ample.

Enjoying good profit-margins in 2017, Asian refiners had cranked up processing to a record 23 million bpd by last October.

With profits, known in the oil industry as cracks, now down due to higher feedstock crude prices and ample fuel supplies because of last year's processing binge, Asian refiners have started to reduce output, likely resulting in lower crude orders.

"Falling crude throughput will bring downward price pressure in Q1/Q2, as seasonally softening consumption, narrowing distillate cracks and spring maintenance lower run rates," BMI Research said in a note.

Asia stocks saunter toward historic high, U.S. earnings hurdle

Asian shares crept toward all-time peaks on Monday after Wall Street boasted its best start to a year in over a decade, with brisk economic growth and benign inflation proving a potent cocktail for risk appetites.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (MIAPJ0000PUS) added 0.2 percent having climbed 3.1 percent last week, its strongest performance in six months.

At 588.55, the index is within spitting distance of its record top of 591.50 hit in November 2007.

The Philippines (PSI) is already at a record, while Australian stocks (AXJO) eked out another decade top. Japan's Nikkei (N225) was closed for a holiday but last week touched its highest since 1992.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 (ESc1) edged up 0.1 percent while spreadbetters pointed to opening gains for Europe.

"It was the global synchronized growth that drove earnings and equity markets higher last year and the global economy has entered 2018 firing on all cylinders," said analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (NYSE:BAC), predicting the global economy could expand at 4 percent or more this year.

"This growth is keeping our quant models bullish and driving earnings revisions to new highs," they added. "We stay long outside the U.S., with Asia ex-Japan and Nikkei our growth plays, Europe still for yield."

Friday's U.S. jobs report did nothing to challenge that outlook.

While payrolls missed forecasts, the report was perfect for equities given unemployment stayed low but with little sign of the inflationary pressures that would make the Federal Reserve more aggressive in tightening policy.

Wall Street has already enjoyed its best start to a year in more than a decade, with the Dow (DJI) up 2.3 percent last week and the S&P 500 (SPX) 2.6 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq (IXIC) led the charge with a rise of 3.4 percent.

The quarterly U.S. earnings season kicks off this week with the Street expecting solid growth of around 10 percent, though many companies are also likely to be announcing one-off charges to account for recent tax changes.


The next major data hurdles will be U.S. consumer prices and retail sales on Friday. In Asia, China reports December inflation on Wednesday and international trade numbers on Friday.

In currency markets, the dollar has steadied for the moment after a rocky couple of weeks.

With economic activity picking up globally, the dollar (DXY) has been undermined by expectations the Fed will not be the only central bank tightening policy this year.

On Friday, surprisingly strong Canadian jobs data stoked speculation that interest rates there could rise as early as next week and sent the local currency to a three-month peak .

Upbeat euro zone data has likewise underpinned the single currency at $1.2027 , though it has so far failed to clear major chart resistance at the September top of $1.2092.

The dollar has fared better on the yen at 113.21 , thanks in part to expectations the Bank of Japan will stick with its super-easy policies.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called on central bank governor Haruhiko Kuroda to keep up efforts to reflate the economy, but added he was undecided on whether to reappoint Kuroda for another five-year term.

The combination of a soft U.S. dollar and strong global growth has been positive for commodities, with everything from coal to iron ore to copper in demand.

Spot gold made a 3-1/2-month high last week and was trading at $1,320.16 an ounce on Monday.

Oil prices reached their highest since 2015 helped in part by political tensions in Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Brent was last up 13 cents at $67.75, while U.S. crude rose 16 cents to $61.60 per barrel.

U.S. oilfield service firms dust off IPO plans as crude prices surge

U.S. oilfield service companies are gearing up for initial public offerings, according to regulatory filings and analysts, after several shelved equity sales last year during a weak period for oil prices.

Oil is trading near its highest level since early 2015, fueling demand for service firms to bring new shale wells to production. Energy executives surveyed last month said they would increase drilling sharply at prices above $60 a barrel. Crude (CLC1) recently traded at about $61.50 a barrel.

Investors' appetite for the shares will be tested soon. Liberty Oilfield Services, which provides hydraulic fracturing services to shale producers, last week filed to raise about $160 million by selling 10.7 million shares at about $15 a share.

If its IPO performs well, it could open the gates for several other companies aiming to raise funds for new expansion or to buy rivals. Since August, the Van Eck Vectors Oil Services ETF (P:OIH) is up nearly 28 percent, behind the 32 percent gain in the SPDR S&P Oil and Gas Exploration and Production ETF (P:XOP).

Denver, Colorado-based Liberty was one of four oilfield firms that shelved IPOs last year after producers trimmed spending budgets as crude dipped to $45 a barrel. Liberty did not respond to requests for comment. Other service firms also have updated their filings, signaling they may try again.

"We could see a quick ramp up (in IPOs) because there are so many in a good position to go quickly once market conditions improve," said A.J. Ericksen, a partner with law firm Baker Botts who focuses on mergers and acquisitions and capital markets. His firm represents the underwriters in Liberty's public offering.

Underpinning the improving market for fracking services, there are some 7,300 drilled-but-uncompleted wells across the United States as of November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently reported. Those are wells that have yet to be hydraulically fractured.

BJ Services, FTS International and Nine Energy Service, all of which offer hydraulic fracturing of shale wells, last year filed registration statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission but did not proceed. Fracking involves pumping sand and liquids at high pressure into a well to release trapped oil and gas.

Representatives from the three companies did not respond to requests for comment.

In late October, FTS amended its registration filing and said its average pricing was up by more than 50 percent since late 2016. It also said it expects to reactivate six pressure-pumping fleets through mid-2018, suggesting strong demand for hydraulic fracturing.

Nine Energy Service in late December also filed an amended registration form, a possible sign it is positioning itself to go public this year. BJ Services, which named a new chief financial officer in November, has not updated its filing since July.

"Everyone that filed in 2017 but took no additional action is probably a candidate (to go public) in 2018," said Richard Spears, vice president of oilfield service research firm Spears & Associates. He estimates as many as five oilfield service companies could go public in the first quarter of this year.

Pressure pumping firm Keane Group (N:FRAC) went public a year ago at $19 a share, just as energy prices were moving higher after OPEC agreed to curb production. After falling to $12.51 last May as crude prices slipped, its shares have recovered and currently trade around $18.52.

"We look at Keane as the closest peer to Liberty. So if Keane is trading well, that should bode well for Liberty," said Kathleen Smith, who manages exchange-traded funds for IPO specialist Renaissance Capital.