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Asia shares extend bull run, dollar huddles near lows

Asian shares extended their bull run on Monday amid upbeat corporate earnings and strong global economic growth, while the dollar struggled to bounce as the White House continued to complain of "unfair" trade practices by competitors.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.26 percent, aiming for a 12th straight session of gains. It is up 8 percent for the year so far.

Japan's Nikkei rose 0.1 percent as the yen eased a little, while South Korea notched a record.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng has been the best performer for the year so far with a rise of almost 11 percent, while Shanghai blue chips ran into profit-taking on Monday.

Spread betters tipped opening gains for the major European bourses, while E-Minis for the S&P 500 were steady.

Wall Street has likewise been on a tear. Just last week, the Dow rose 2.08 percent, the S&P 500 2.22 percent and the Nasdaq 2.31 percent.

Quarterly earnings growth for the S&P 500 is estimated at 13.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data, up from 12 percent at the start of the year. Almost 80 percent of the 133 companies in the index that have reported beat forecasts.

Another 36 percent of the S&P 500 is due to report this week including heavy hitters Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

The rush to equities combined with the risk of faster global inflation, has been a major negative for sovereign bonds with yields rising across much of the developed world.

Yields on U.S. two-year Treasuries have risen steadily to their highest since 2008 and are fully priced for a rate hike by the Federal Reserve in March.

Ten-year yields broke above the range of the last week or so to reach 2.69 percent on Monday, levels last visited in mid-2014.

The Fed holds its next meeting on Wednesday, the last for Chair Janet Yellen, and analysts suspect the statement will only cement expectations for a March move.

WORDS MATTER

The inexorable increase in Treasury yields has not, however, been enough to rescue the U.S. dollar which sank to three-year lows last week as U.S. officials welcomed a weaker currency.

President Donald Trump did try and walk some of that back late in the week but by then the damage had been done.

Indeed, in an interview shown on Sunday, Trump threatened to confront the European Union over what he calls "very unfair" trade policy toward the U.S..

"'Words' in the world of FX do matter," said Deutsche Bank (DE:DBKGn) Strategist George Saravelos. "The U.S. is reengaging with a weak dollar policy similarly to the 1994-95 period."

This was happening while the sum of trade and investment flows into the United States was shrinking. The opposite was happening in the euro zone, where the German export engine was powering an ever-expanding current account surplus.

"We continue to target $1.30 in EUR/USD for this year," Saravelos concluded.

The euro did run into a little profit-taking in Asia on Monday which nudged it to back to $1.2412 and away from a three-year peak of $1.2538 last week.

The dollar was a fraction firmer on the yen at 108.73, but not far from a four-month trough of 108.28.

Against a basket of major currencies, it edged up 0.1 percent to 89.145 having been at the lowest since late 2014.

The dollar faces a bevy of U.S. economic reports this week including indicators of inflation, manufacturing and payrolls.

The currency's decline has been a boon for many commodities, with gold making a 17-month top last week and last trading at $1,348.10 an ounce.

Oil prices had reached their highest in three years and Brent crude futures were holding atop $70 at $70.46 a barrel. U.S. crude futures were up 23 cents at $66.37.

Oil firms as dollar falls further, but weaker crude demand looms

Oil prices reversed earlier falls on Friday as ongoing weakness in the U.S. dollar was seen supporting fuel consumption.

Brent crude futures were at $70.40 per barrel at 0756 GMT, down 3 cents from their last close, after dropping as low as $70.07 earlier in the day.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $65.52 a barrel, up 1 cent from their previous close, recovering from a session-low of $64.91 a barrel.

Crude oil futures have received support from a weakening dollar, which on Friday hit fresh 2014 lows against a basket of other leading currencies.

As oil is traded in dollars, swings in the greenback can also impact oil demand as it affects the price of fuel purchases for countries using other currencies.

"The weakening of the U.S. dollar against a basket of global currencies ... has positioned 2018 to lead off with strong levels of oil demand," said BMI Research.

Despite this, crude prices were prevented from further rises by a seasonally weakening demand outlook.

Georgi Slavov, head of research at commodities brokerage Marex Spectron, said despite a generally healthy outlook for oil demand, there were short-term headwinds due to the upcoming end of the peak-demand period during the northern hemisphere winter season.

Many refiners shut down after winter for maintenance, resulting in lower orders for crude, their most important feedstock.

"Demand is starting to weaken as ... refining capacity was taken out of the market," Slavov said.

U.S. bank Jefferies said "a fairly heavy maintenance season" was starting in the United States, adding there was also upcoming "scheduled maintenance in the Middle East (including the 400,000 barrels per day Aramco Jubail refinery)."

This is reflecting in oil inventories.

"Global oil stocks built overall in the week ending Jan. 19, as both crude and product stocks saw small builds," U.S. bank Morgan Stanley said.

On the supply side, U.S. oil production is expected to hit 10 million bpd soon, after reaching 9.88 million bpd last week.

Output has grown by more than 17 percent since mid-2016 and is now on par with top exporter Saudi Arabia's.

Only Russia produces more, averaging 10.98 million bpd in 2017.

Rising U.S. output threatens to undermine the supply restraint led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia, aimed at propping up prices.

The cuts, coupled with demand growth, have contributed to a near 60 percent rise in oil prices since mid-2017 as excess crude inventories have been drawn down.

Trump Administration Welcomes Weak Dollar amid Fears of Trade War

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin welcomed a weaker dollar on Wednesday, underlining concerns that the Trump administration is stepping an attack on major trading partners as part of the president’s America First agenda.

Mnuchin said that a “weaker dollar is good for trade,” sending the U.S. currency slumping. The remark was seen by investors as a break from traditional U.S. currency policy.

He made the remark at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where other world leaders have made swipes at what they see as U.S. protectionism.

The annual Davos gathering of world leaders, chief executives and non-governmental agencies has long embraced globalization and free trade.

President Donald Trump is set to speak in Davos on Friday and investors are concerned he will use the speech to signal a more protectionist policy stance

Asia shares hit record peak but trade protectionist fears cast shadow

Asian stocks hit a record high on Thursday though concerns about the Trump administration's protectionist stance tempered enthusiasm in financial markets, while the dollar struggled after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin welcomed a weaker currency.

European shares are expected to tick up slightly, with spread-betters seeing a small rise of 0.1 percent in Britain's FTSE, Germany's DAX and France's Cac.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan advanced 0.3 percent to an all-time peak for the ninth session in a row.

Japan's Nikkei fell 1.1 percent, hit by the dollar's decline against the yen.

MSCI ACWI, the index provider's broadest gauge of the world's stock markets, boosted its gains for the month to 6.6 percent. It had registered declines only on two days this year amid optimism over an extended growth spurt in the global economy and solid earnings.

A Reuters poll of over 500 economists showed the global economy is expected to grow at the fastest pace since 2010.

The upbeat mood, however, has come up against renewed fears of protectionism after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to impose steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels earlier in the week.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, hinted at action against China, saying U.S. trade authorities were investigating whether there is a case for taking action over China's infringements of intellectual property.

Trump is scheduled to speak in Davos on Thursday.

Also in the Swiss Alpine town, Mnuchin made a major departure from traditional U.S. currency policy on Wednesday, saying "obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities."

Analysts say they cannot remember any U.S. Treasury Secretary openly embracing a cheaper dollar at least in the last two decades or so.

"I was speculating the Trump administration may role out something with fanfare given its big delegation to Davos," said Masayuki Kichikawa, chief macro strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

"I'd think the real aim of Mnuchin's comments on the dollar is not so much engineering a weaker dollar per se as putting pressure on trading partners to do some trade deals with the administration," he added.

The dollar's index against a basket of six major currencies tumbled to a three-year low of 88.816, falling 1.9 percent so far this week.

The euro rose to as high as $1.2459, a peak not scaled since December 2014, ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting later in the day.

The meeting comes against a backdrop of heightened speculation over when it will end its vast stimulus and signal a rise in interest rates from record lows.

The dollar slipped to 108.74 yen, its lowest levels since mid-September.

The Chinese yuan also strengthened, gaining 0.5 percent to 6.3280 yuan per dollar in onshore trade, hitting its highest level since November 2015.

It rose 2.7 percent so far this month. The gains, if sustained, would mark the biggest monthly rise ever.

Gold jumped past its September peak to 1-1/2-year high of $1,365.8 per ounce. A break above its July 2016 high around $1,375 would take it to a four-year high.

Brazilian markets might be in for another strong day following rally in the real and shares on Wednesday after an appeals court upheld the corruption conviction of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a major blow to the popular politician's plans to run again for the presidency this year.

He was perceived to be not friendly to markets, even though his eight-year reign from 2003 saw strong gains in Brazilian shares and currency.

Oil prices rallied to three-year high, boosted by a record 10th straight weekly decline in U.S. crude inventories, though reduced refining activity and rising production signaled U.S. stocks could rise in coming weeks.

International benchmark Brent futures were nudging $71 per barrel - $71.03 a barrel at 0232 GMT - a level not seen since early December 2014 and up 45 cents, or 0.6 percent, from their last close.

Bitcoin extended its rebound from Tuesday's low of $9,927 to $11,541, up 1 percent so far in Asia.

Brent hits $71 first time since 2014 as dollar drops, U.S. crude inventory falls

Brent oil prices hit $71 per barrel on Thursday for the first time since 2014 as the dollar continued to weaken and crude inventories in the United States fell for a 10th straight week, amid ongoing supply cutbacks by OPEC and top producer Russia.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, hit a session high of $71.05 per barrel - the highest since early December 2014 - before dipping back to $70.86 by 0801 GMT. That was still up 32 cents, or 0.5 percent from the last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures climbed to $66.35 per barrel, also the highest level since early December 2014, before dipping to $66.14. That was still up 0.8 percent from the last settlement.

Both crude benchmarks have risen by almost 60 percent since the middle of last year.

Price have been supported by supply restrictions led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia, the world's biggest oil producer. The output cuts started last year and are set to last throughout 2018.

"That (the producer cut), the U.S.-dollar fall, along with another inventory draw combined to drive (crude) up," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader.

U.S. crude inventories fell 1.1 million barrels in the week to Jan. 19, to 411.58 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday.

That is the lowest seasonal level since 2015 and below the five-year average of about 420 million barrels.

In foreign exchange markets, the U.S. dollar hit its lowest level since December 2014 against a basket of other leading currencies.

A weakening dollar often results in financial traders taking investments out of currency markets and putting money into commodity futures like crude.

OIL FUELS INFLATION

Fereidun Fesheraki, chairman of consultancy FACTS Global Energy, told Reuters in Tokyo on Thursday that oil prices could rise further still.

"The market is so tight ... The problem with this environment is that if you have something in say, Libya, and production goes down by 500,000 barrels (per day) ... it (Brent) can easily go to $75 by May," he said.

Analysts said rising oil prices would likely start to have an inflationary effect.

"Higher oil prices will eventually be reflected in higher consumer prices as the costs of transport of most goods will rise," said William O'Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia's Rivkin Securities.

Looming over the generally bullish market has been U.S. oil production, which is edging ever more closely towards 10 million barrels per day (bpd), hitting 9.88 million bpd last week.

U.S. output has grown by more than 17 percent since mid-2016, and is now on par with that of top exporter Saudi Arabia.

Only Russia produces more, averaging 10.98 million bpd in 2017.

Forex - Dollar Falls Further In Asia On Global Trade Worries, Trump At Davos

The dollar fell further in Asia on Wednesday on growing concerns of a global trade spat following trade action by the US against China and South Korea and concerns over the what kind of trade message the Trump administration will give at Davos.

Japan reported trade figures for December with the trade balance at a surplus of ¥359 billion, narrower than the ¥530 billion surplus seen. Imports jumped 14.9%, above the 12.3% gain seen, while exports rose 9.3%, less than the 10.1% pace seen.

USD/JPY changed hands at 110.05, down 0.25%, while AUD/USD traded at 0.7998, down 0.04%. GBP/USD rose 0.15% to 1.4024, while EUR/USD gained 0.07% to 1.2306.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a trade-weighted basket of six major currencies, fell 0.09% to 89.80.

Overnight, the dollar rose from lows but remained under pressure as the yen made strong gains shrugging off less hawkish than expected comments from the Bank of Japan following its decision to keep monetary policy unchanged.

In what was a quiet day on the calendar for the top-tier US economic data, the dollar struggled to find its footing after falling to fresh three-and-a-half month lows before paring some of its losses.

The euro continued its trend higher against the greenback as data indicating underlying strength in the US economy, added to the growing speculation that bullish Eurozone growth would force the ECB to consider plans to end its quantitative easing program.

The ECB is slated to meet on Thursday, when many expect the central bank to keep rates unchanged while ECB president Mario Draghi is likely to downplay any investor expectations that the central bank will soon announce plans to adopt a less dovish stance on monetary policy.

Oil dips on higher U.S. fuel stocks, but overall market remains supported

Oil prices fell on Wednesday, weighed down by data that showed an increase in U.S. crude oil and gasoline inventories.

Brent crude oil futures were at $69.83 a barrel at 0444 GMT, down 13 cents from their last close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $64.43 a barrel, down 4 cents from their last settlement.

Traders said prices had been pressured by U.S. data showing an increase in crude and gasoline stocks.

The American Petroleum Institute said on Tuesday that crude inventories rose by 4.8 million barrels in the week to Jan. 19 to 416.2 million, after nine weeks of drawdowns.

Gasoline stocks climbed by 4.1 million barrels, while refinery crude runs fell by 420,000 barrels per day.

In Asia, oversupply of gasoline has pulled down refinery profits for the product to their lowest level since 2015.

Amid these weakening indicators, traders are taking measures to protect themselves from a potential fall in crude prices.

Trading data shows open interest for Brent put options to sell at $70, $69 and $68 per barrel has surged since the middle of last week on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).

"The options market shows increased demand for downside protection. This makes sense considering how one-sided (to the upside) the speculative bets have become," said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

Overall, there is now far more demand for options to sell Brent than there is for call options, which are the right to buy Brent at a certain price.

Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta, said the rising options to sell were a result of huge amounts of long positions that have been built up in the market over the past months of rising crude prices.

"We still have...nine long barrels for every short barrel, so a reversal should be interesting to watch," he said.

STILL STRONG SUPPORT

Despite this, traders said oil prices were unlikely to tumble far as markets remain supported by healthy economic growth, as well as from supply restrictions led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia.

In the latest sign of robust global economic growth, Japanese manufacturing activity expanded at the fastest pace in almost four years in January, a survey showed on Wednesday.

Economic growth is translating into healthy oil demand growth, which comes at a time that OPEC and Russia lead production cuts aimed at tightening the market and propping up prices. The deal to withhold output started in January last year and is currently set to last through 2018.

Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore said a "beaming economic forecast along with stout compliance from OPEC (to withhold production) is providing convincing support."

Yen turns lower as BOJ hoses down stimulus end speculation

The yen slipped on Tuesday after comments from the Bank of Japan chief quelled speculation the central bank follow other central banks in scaling back monetary stimulus, while the dollar recovered losses after the U.S. government's shutdown ended.

The yen weakened to 111.15 yen to the dollar , down 0.2 percent from late U.S. levels, after BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda reiterated his commitment to strong monetary easing, saying there is still some distance to meeting inflation target.

That helped the Japanese currency reverse its earlier gains to 110.55 per dollar, which put it within sight of last week's four-month low of 110.19, after the BOJ maintained its policy and its economic and price projections.

The comments came after U.S. senators struck a deal to lift a three-day government shutdown, which helped the dollar recover earlier losses. However, the greenback remained mired near a three-year low against a basket of currencies on lingering concerns about its yield advantage being chipped away.

The BOJ said risks to prices are still tilted to the downside, though its slight change to its assessment on inflation expectations to "flat" from "weak" was enough to trigger a bout of yen buying.

"I don't see anything in today's announcement that suggests a change in the BOJ's stance. Rather today's price action talks more about how the market is preoccupied with the idea that the BOJ will adjust its monetary policy at some stage in the future," said Minori Uchida, chief FX analyst at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

The yen has gained after the BOJ trimmed its buying of long-dated government bonds earlier this month, sparking speculation of an eventual exit from its large stimulus.

The dollar's index against a basket of major currencies (DXY) (=USD) stood at 90.49, not far off its three-year low of 90.104 touched on Jan. 17.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term measure on Monday to fund the federal government through Feb. 8 after it won enough support in the Senate.

Still, a boost from the deal did not last long partly because the measure secured funding for only a little more than two weeks, with the Republicans and Democrats still at loggerheads on many issues.

One reason often cited by traders for the dollar's climbdown is that its relative yield attraction is at risk as the world's major central banks are seen winding up their stimulus.

That would change the interest rate dynamics of the past few years, when the U.S. Federal Reserve was the only central bank raising rates.

The euro stood at $1.2277, consolidating its rally after having hit a three-year high of $1.2323 on Jan. 17.

Expectations that the European Central Bank may withdraw its stimulus gained momentum earlier this month after the accounts of its last policy meeting showed it could shift its policy communication early this year.

But sources have told Reuters the ECB is unlikely to ditch a pledge to keep buying bonds at its upcoming meeting on Thursday.

The British pound hit its post-Brexit referendum high of $1.4005, helped by optimism that Britain will reach a favourable divorce deal with the European Union.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday Britain would be able to have a bespoke deal with the European Union after Brexit, one of Prime Minister Theresa May's objectives.

Global stocks scale record highs as U.S. government shutdown ends, yen turns down

Asian stocks advanced on Tuesday after U.S. senators struck a deal to end a government shutdown in a boost to Wall Street, while the dollar turned higher against the yen after Bank Of Japan's chief reiterated his support for quantitative easing.

Spreadbetters expected Britain's FTSE (FTSE) to open 0.3 percent higher, Germany's DAX (GDAXI) 0.5 percent and France's CAC (FCHI) 0.3 percent.

U.S. lawmakers passed a short-term measure on Monday to fund the federal government through Feb. 8.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (MIAPJ0000PUS) rose 0.9 percent to a record peak.

Australian stocks (AXJO) climbed 0.75 percent and South Korea's KOSPI (KS11) added 1.4 percent.

Japan's Nikkei (N225) rose to a 26-year peak, Hong Kong's Hang Sang (HSI) scaled a record high and Singapore (STI) reached a 10-year top.

World equity markets have been on a tear over the past year, buoyed by a synchronized uptick in global economic growth in a boon to corporate profits and stock valuations.

The brief U.S. government shutdown put only a minor dent to equities, with Wall Street rallying to all-time highs overnight following the deal to end the impasse in Washington. (N)

In currencies, the dollar briefly dipped 0.33 percent to 110.550 yen after the BOJ maintained its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1 percent and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero percent.

The BOJ also said "inflation expectations have moved sideways recently," offering a slightly more upbeat view than three months ago when it said they were on a weak note.

The central bank was still far from its peers who were looking for ways out of unconventional monetary policies.

"The BOJ kept is policies unchanged and made no real changes to its overall stance. It still remains a step behind other central banks looking to normalize their policies," said Shusuke Yamada, chief Japan FX strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (NYSE:BAC).

The BOJ caused ripples in the markets earlier in January by slightly reducing the amount of longer-dated Japanese government bonds (JGBs) it buys from the market at its regular debt-purchasing operations.

The yen had appreciated significantly against the dollar as some traders speculated the central bank was preparing to scale back its massive stimulus.

In Tuesday's press conference following the policy decision, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda put such notions to rest: "There is still some distance to 2 percent inflation, so we're in no condition yet to debate the timing of an exit from ultra-easy monetary policy."

In response, the dollar pulled back from earlier losses and was last 0.2 percent higher at 111.100 yen.

The euro was down 0.2 percent at $1.2240 after gaining 0.3 percent overnight. The common currency was still within reach of a three-year peak of $1.2323 set on Wednesday.

The euro was supported ahead of the outcome of the European Central Bank's meeting on Thursday, which could provide clues to future shifts in the central bank's monetary policy.

The pound was a shade lower at $1.3961 after touching $1.3992, its highest level since June 2016's vote for Brexit, on optimism that Britain will reach a favorable divorce deal with the European Union. [GBP/]

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies stood rose 0.15 percent to 90.524 (DXY).

In the virtual currency world, bitcoin was down 4.5 percent on the Bitstamp exchange (BTC=BTSP) at $10,320.13 following news that South Korea will ban the use of anonymous bank accounts in cryptocurrency trading from Jan. 30. While it was a widely telegraphed move designed to stop virtual coins from being used for money laundering and other crimes, the step also underscored authorities' intent to close down avenues for spurious speculation.

Oil prices rose on Tuesday, lifted by healthy economic growth as well as the ongoing supply restraint by a group of exporters around OPEC and Russia. [O/R]

U.S. crude oil futures (CLc1) rose 0.6 percent to $63.94 per barrel and Brent gained 0.56 percent to $69.42 per barrel (LCOc1).

Spot gold tacked on 0.2 percent to $1,336.70 per ounce.

Global stocks, dollar sag after U.S. government shutdown

U.S. stock futures, Asian equities and the dollar pulled back slightly on Monday after the U.S. government was forced to shut down amid a dispute between President Donald Trump and Democrats over immigration.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.1 percent while Japan's Nikkei was down 0.15 percent.

U.S. S&P500 mini futures dipped 0.1 percent in early trade while U.S. Treasuries price fell, pushing up the benchmark 10-year yield to as high as 2.672 percent, its highest level in 3-1/2 years.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate held talks on Sunday seeking to break the impasse that has kept the U.S. government shut down for two days.

But the Senate scheduled a vote for Monday at noon (1700 GMT) on a stopgap spending measure, cancelling a planned vote for Monday at 1 a.m. (0600 GMT), ensuring the federal government will remain closed when U.S. markets open.

While many see minimal impact on the economy from a short-term government shutdown, analysts say a prolonged stalemate in Washington could dampen investors' confidence in U.S. assets.

"The markets had not expected this shutdown. Given that U.S. share prices have rallied strongly since the beginning of the year, we have to see if this event is a trigger to change the market trend," said Takafumi Yamawaki, head of Japan fixed income research at JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) Securities.

He noted that during previous government shutdowns - two in 1995 and one in 2013 - U.S. bond yields have tended to slip in the first few weeks after the closure.

In the foreign exchange market, the dollar's index against a basket of major currencies dropped about 0.2 percent from late last week to 90.465, not far from three-year low of 90.104 touched on Wednesday, before edging back to 90.63.

The euro opened the day 0.4 percent higher at $1.2275, but it stopped short of testing Wednesday's three-year peak of $1.2323 and pared back much of the gains to trade at $1.2230.

The common currency was also helped after Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) voted on Sunday to begin formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, moving Europe's economic powerhouse closer to a stable government after months of political deadlock.

The safe-haven Swiss franc gained 0.2 percent to 0.9627 franc per dollar. It hit a four-month high of 0.9536 to the dollar on Friday.

The Japanese yen was little changed at 110.78 yen to the dollar, not far from Wednesday's four-month high of 110.19 while gold ticked up 0.2 percent to $1,334.5 per ounce.

The South African rand was the biggest mover in early Asian trade, rising almost 1 percent to 2-1/2-year highs of 12.0825 per dollar.

Leaders of South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) met on Saturday to outline the party's program for the coming year amid reports that its executive planned to force Jacob Zuma to quit as the country's president.

Moving in the opposite direction, the Turkish lira eased 0.6 percent to 3.8280 after Turkey's army and rebel allies battled U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in northern Syria, in a campaign that has opened a new front in Syria's civil war.

Oil prices ticked up, pushed higher by comments from Saudi Arabia that cooperation between oil producers who are currently withholding supplies in an effort to prop up the market would continue beyond 2018.

Brent crude futures were at $68.86, up 0.4 percent, from their last close. Brent on Jan. 15 hit its highest since December, 2014, at $70.37 a barrel.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $63.57 a barrel, up 0.3 percent from their last settlement. WTI marked a December-2014 peak of $64.89 a barrel on Jan. 16.