* Asia ex-Japan stocks set for weekly loss; Nikkei higher
* Steelmakers steady, unfazed by U.S. probe on Chinese
* European stocks poised for muted start
* Euro falls back from three-week high amid French election
* Oil set for worst week in six on U.S. oversupply fears
By Nichola Saminather
SINGAPORE, April 21 Asian stocks were set to end
the week on a positive note, unscathed by a U.S. trade probe on
Chinese steel exports, while the euro remained on edge ahead of
Sunday's first round in a tight French presidential election
after a shooting overnight in Paris that was claimed by Islamic
European stocks were headed for a more muted start, with
financial spreadbetters expecting Britain's FTSE 100 to
open flat and Germany's DAX to start the day up 0.1
percent. France's CAC 40 is also expected to be steady
at the open, retaining most of Thursday's 1.5 percent gain, its
biggest in more than seven weeks.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan
added 0.5 percent on Friday, taking its cue from
Wall Street's solid performance overnight on expectations of
strong first-quarter earnings growth. It is still poised for a
0.4 percent weekly loss.
Asian steelmakers were mostly steady or higher, as investors
dismissed for now any negative impact from the launch of a U.S.
trade probe against Chinese steel exporters, although Chinese
companies shed some of their earlier gains. The move sent their
U.S. counterparts surging over 8 percent overnight.
China's Angang Steel added 0.4 percent, while
Baoshan Iron and Steel Co., Beijing Shougang
and Hesteel Co. inched down between 0.1
percent and 0.2 percent.
The region's other major steel producers posted strong
gains, with Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. jumping
1 percent, and South Korea's Posco surging 2.5
percent, its biggest daily gain in more than three weeks.
"The U.S. accounts for a small proportion of China's steel
exports," said Yang Kunhe, steel analyst at Northeast Securities
in Beijing, adding Northeast Asia and Africa have been growing
markets for Chinese steel over the past few years.
“But if Trump’s probe translates into actions, it would
increase the chance of trade friction, and hurt market
Only 0.8 percent of Chinese steel exports go to the U.S.,
according to a U.S. Commerce Department report from December.
Markets also mostly shrugged off White House comments that
the U.S. may consider tit-for-tat tariffs on imports, and
concerns raised by the International Monetary Fund that U.S. tax
cuts could fuel financial risk-taking and increase public debt.
Japan's Nikkei advanced 0.8 percent, on track for a
weekly gain of 1.4 percent.
Chinese shares in Shanghai added 0.1 percent, set
for a 2.2 percent weekly drop, their worst since mid-December.
Hong Kong stocks were little changed, heading for a 0.8
percent loss for the week.
The first round of the French presidential election on
Sunday kept the euro on edge though it traded largely
flat on Friday, holding at $1.0717.
The common currency had hit a three-week high of $1.0778 on
Thursday, but fell back after a policeman was shot dead in Paris
and two others in an attack that was claimed by Islamic State.
Analysts feared the latest outrage could sway French voters
in what is expected to be a tight election, by working against
more moderate, centrist candidates.
The euro had made the earlier high thanks to opinion polls
that showed French centrist Emmanuel Macron would easily beat
far-right, anti-European Union candidate Marine Le Pen in the
second round on May 7.
"Let's hope (Macron) doesn't get squeezed out, particularly
in light of last night’s terrorist attack in Paris, which given
the tightness of the polls, could influence events," Michael
Hewson, chief market anaylst at CMC Markets in London, wrote in
French 10-year Treasury yields slumped to a
near-three-month low of 0.856 percent on Thursday, while
safe-haven German bund yields jumped to 0.244
percent, their highest close in nearly two weeks.
Markets are awaiting several economic indicators from
Europe later in the session, including Eurozone manufacturing
and services data for April and British retail sales for March.
U.S. manufacturing and services data for April and existing home
sales for March were due to be released later in the global day.
Wall Street indexes closed between 0.75 percent and 0.9
percent higher on rising expectations for first-quarter
corporate profits. S&P 500 stock index company earnings now are
expected to have gained 11.1 percent in the first quarter.
The dollar was 0.1 percent lower at 109.19 yen. It is
up 0.6 percent for the week.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against
a basket of trade-weighted peers, was little changed at 99.806,
on track to lose 0.75 percent this week.
In commodities, oil drifted on Friday following Thursday's
choppy session as the tussle continued between worries over
rising U.S. production and optimism over comments from leading
Gulf oil producers that an extension to OPEC-led supply cuts was
U.S. oil was up 0.1 percent at $50.74 a barrel, set
for a weekly loss of 4.6 percent, the most since the week ended
Global benchmark Brent was steady at $53.00, heading
for a 5.2 percent weekly loss, also its worst performance since
Gold slipped 0.1 percent to $1,279.87 an ounce,
poised for a weekly loss of 0.4 percent.
(Reporting by Nichola Saminather; Additional reporting by John
Ruwitch, Samuel Shen and Sadiq Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Simon