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Asian markets track global surge on oil deal hope

HONG KONG (AFP) -- Energy firms led an Asian stock market rally Wednesday as a strong trade report from China and news of a deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia to limit oil output injected traders with much-needed optimism.

The renewed confidence also saw the safe-haven yen retreat against the dollar, having soared more than 5 percent since the start of the month.

U.S. and European equities provided a perfect lead with healthy gains after Russian news agency Interfax said that Moscow and Riyadh have reached a “consensus” over freezing oil output ahead a key producers meeting.

While most market-watchers say nations must cut production, the news raised hopes that at least a global glut, which saw prices plunge 75 percent from mid-2014 to February, can be addressed.

Major players from inside and outside the OPEC producers club are due to meet in Doha Sunday to discuss the crude crisis, which has hammered some of the world's biggest energy companies and oil-exporter nations.

The two main oil contracts surged more than 4 percent to 2016 highs on the report, although they retreated slightly in early trade Wednesday.

Energy firms were the main gainers in Asia. Hong Kong-listed CNOOC soared more than 4 percent while PetroChina put on 5 percent. In Sydney Woodside Petroleum was 3.6 percent higher and Rio Tinto 3.3 percent. Japan’s Inpex added 3.8 percent.

The gains fed through to the wider stock markets, with Tokyo leading the way, soaring 2.6 percent by the break while Hong Kong added 2.2 percent and Sydney 1.3 percent.

The International Monetary Fund's decision to cut its global growth outlook and issue a warning that activity has been “too slow for too long” seemed to have little impact.

“Oil prices have rebounded, and the U.S. market is becoming slightly risk-on,” Chihiro Ohta, general manager of investment information at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News.

“With oil prices higher, U.S. financial institutions and energy companies’ credit issues can take a breather for now, and stock selling from oil-producing countries can be avoided. Investors are thinking they should buy back into the Japanese stock market as well.”

Shanghai piled on 2.3 percent in the morning after official figures showed China's exports broke an eight-month streak of declines to increase almost 19 percent in March.

The data is the latest to indicate a possible turnaround in the fortunes of the world’s number two economy, following upbeat inflation on Monday and a gauge of factory activity last month showing a surprise increase.

“This is quite encouraging indeed,” said Iris Pang, a Greater China economist at Natixis SA in Hong Kong, although she added: “We need more evidence to confirm that the whole manufacturing sector is on track again.”

Attention now turns to the release Friday of first-quarter growth figures, after the economy expanded in 2015 at its slowest rate for a quarter of a century.

On currency markets, the dollar pushed back against the yen, which usually benefits from dealers looking for safe investments in times of turmoil.

The greenback climbed to 108.76 yen, having earlier this week dipped below 108 yen, with support coming from Japan finance minister's promise that officials would intervene to prevent their currency strengthening too much.