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Asia steady after rebound in oil; dollar wobbly vs yen

Asian stocks were steady in quiet trade on Monday, drawing heart after a rebound in crude oil that took prices away from multi-year lows.

Investors across asset markets were without some of the usual leads as markets in Europe and North America were closed on Friday for Christmas.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat. The index was on track for an 11 percent loss this year.

Japan’s Nikkei was also up 0.1 percent. The Nikkei, lifted in part by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reflationary policies, was headed for its fourth straight year of gains.

US crude gained last week thanks to falling inventories, reduced drilling and the lifting of a ban on most U.S. crude exports. U.S. crude CLc1 nudged down 0.4 percent to USD 37.93 a barrel after jumping nearly 9 percent last week and away from USD 33.98, lowest since February 2009.

Brent crude LCOc1 also rose nearly 3 percent last week, moving away from an 11-year trough.

Still, the warmer-than-usual winter affecting many parts of the world, attributed to the El Nino weather pattern, meant potentially less crude demand for heating purposes. Analysts also pondered the wider economic impact of the weather pattern.

“The United States is experiencing a winter with record high temperatures and focus is on whether first quarter economic activity would be negatively affected because of this,” wrote Shinichiro Kadota, chief Japan FX strategist at Barclays in Tokyo.

“US data related to housing and private consumption, which are swayed by winter conditions, bear watching,” Kadota said.

In currencies, the dollar fetched 120.315 yen, wobbling near a two-month low of 120.05 struck on Friday. The dollar has lost some steam, with investors locking in profits after the Federal Reserve this month hiked interest rates for the first time in nine years.

Late last week, a weaker-than-expected US index on employment cost also weighed on the greenback. The currency market will be keeping an eye on coming US data to gauge if the world’s largest economy is strong enough to withstand further rate hikes in 2016.

The euro inched down 0.1 percent to USD 1.0962 EUR= after spending Friday confined to a very narrow range.

The Australian dollar was down 0.1 percent at USD 0.7276 AUD=D4 but still within distance of a two-week peak of USD 0.7295 scaled on Friday when relatively high Australian yields worked in favor of the currency.

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