By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian shares pushed higher on Thursday after a flood of soft economic data led investors to wager on a ceaseless fountain of stimulus from major central banks, sending bond yields tumbling across the globe.
An economic contraction in Japan, a shock fall in Chinese loans, a surprisingly dovish turn by the Bank of England and a sluggish reading on U.S. retail sales all combined to make any tightening in policy seem a very distant prospect.
Indeed, investors suspect further easing is in the cards with data on euro zone growth and inflation later Thursday expected to pressure the European Central Bank for more action.
Yields on Germany's two-year debt
"Risk-correlated assets have responded positively to weak activity data in the U.S., China, the euro area and Japan," summed up Barclays forex strategist Aroop Chatterje. "Euro area inflation remains subdued, which could put pressure on the ECB."
But it is hardly alone.
"China's growth recovery remains fragile," he added. "More forceful policy easing such as interest rate cuts is likely needed for the government to achieve its growth target."
The Bank of Korea is widely expected to cut its rates by 25 basis points to 2.25 percent on Thursday. That would be the lowest since early November 2010 and a marked turnaround from just a month ago.
The thought of endless stimulus helped take the sting out of the disappointing economic news and underpinned equities.
Japan's Topix <.TOPX> rose 0.6 percent, while the Australian market added <.AXJO> 0.4 percent. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was up 0.1 percent.
On Wall Street the Dow <.DJI> ended Wednesday 0.55 percent firmer, while the S&P 500 <.SPX> added 0.67 percent and the Nasdaq <.IXIC> 1.02 percent. All 10 S&P primary sector indexes gained, while the Nasdaq Biotech Index <.NBI> led the charge with a 2.1 percent advance.
MSCI's world stock index <.MIWD00000PUS> rose 0.6 percent.
Brazil was one of the few markets to lose ground as news that presidential candidate Eduardo Campos was killed in a plane crash knocked the Bovespa index <.BVSP> down 1.5 percent.
NO HIKES HERE
Bond investors were also enticed by the outlook for easy money as subdued U.S. retail sales led markets to again push back the day when the Federal Reserve might first raise rates.
Fed fund futures for June next year <0#FF:> closed at their highest in over two months at 99.75, implying a rate of just 0.25 percent.
Two-year U.S. Treasury yields dived to their lowest close in nine weeks at 0.4159 percent
Across the Atlantic, the Bank of England caused a major surprise by slashing its forecast for wage growth and saying higher rates hinged largely on an improved outlook for pay.
With traders abandoning bets for a near-term hike, yields on two-year gilts
The pound dropped to its lowest in four months around $1.6680
The setback for sterling helped the dollar index <.DXY> edge up to 81.611. The euro held steady at $1.3364
In commodity markets, worries about Chinese demand sent copper to a seven-week low below $6,874 per tonne
Spot gold, in contrast, found support from the outlook for loose monetary policy and edged up to $1,311.40 an ounce
Prices for Brent crude oil
(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)