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Asia stocks at 19-month high, dollar up as Yellen puts March rate hike in play Wed Feb 15, 2017 | 1:09am EST

By Shinichi Saoshiro | TOKYO

Asian stocks scaled 19-month peaks on Wednesday, helped by a record-setting night on Wall Street after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen flagged a possible interest rate rise next month, keeping the dollar near three-week highs.

Spreadbetters saw the boon for equities continuing in Europe, predicting a higher open for Britain's FTSE .FTSE, Germany's DAX .GDAXI and France's CAC .FCHI.

Yellen said on Tuesday the Fed would probably need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting, and that delaying rate increases could leave the central bank's policymaking committee behind the curve.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was up 0.9 percent, rising to its highest since July 2015.

Australian stocks climbed 0.9 percent, South Korea's KOSPI .KS11 tacked on 0.5 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng .HSI advanced 1.4 percent. Japan's Nikkei .N225 added more than 1 percent, buoyed by a weaker yen.

"The market took heart from Yellen's comments and such positive sentiment will likely last throughout the day," said Takuya Takahashi, a strategist at Daiwa Securities.

Yellen's remarks helped push Wall Street indexes to record highs overnight by boosting U.S. bank stocks.

"Fundamentally, the U.S. banks are simply being used as a vehicle to express reflation and 'Trumponomics'," wrote Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne.

"Although last night really belonged to Janet Yellen whose prepared comments that waiting too long to tighten would be 'unwise' and a further review of its policy stance will take place at its upcoming meetings."

In currencies, the dollar index against a basket of major currencies stood at 101.220 .DXY, near a three-week high of 101.380 scaled overnight following Yellen's comments.

Yellen's remarks rekindled prospects in some quarters for the Fed to raise rates three times in 2017 rather than twice. The futures market, however, did not exactly share such a view amid lingering doubts toward the U.S. economy's ability to sustain three rate increases.

According to CME Group's FedWatch data, the chance for the Fed implementing at least three rate increases in 2017, as implied by U.S. interest rate futures FFZ7, stood at around 30 percent, little changed from the previous day.

The greenback was a shade higher at 114.400 yen JPY= after rising to a two-week high of 114.500 the previous day. The euro was virtually flat at $1.0579 EUR= after slipping to a one-month trough of $1.0561 overnight.

The dollar was supported as U.S. Treasury yields rose on the Fed Chair's comments, with the benchmark 10-year note yield US10YT=RR climbing about four basis points to an 11-day high the previous day.

The South Korean won slipped early against the dollar but managed to trim a bulk of its losses. Other emerging market currencies such as the Thai baht, Singapore dollar and Malaysian ringgit also eased earlier but retraced most of their losses.

The stronger dollar, which puts non-U.S. buyers of dollar-denominated commodities at a disadvantage, weighed on crude oil prices.

U.S. crude CLc1 was down 0.7 percent at $52.83 a barrel and Brent shed 0.6 percent to $55.64 a barrel LCOc1. Crude already came under pressure the previous day on evidence of surging U.S. stockpiles. [O/R]

Spot gold XAU= was off 0.15 percent at $1,225.91 an ounce. [GOL/]

Copper on the London Metal Exchange CMCU3 rose 0.8 percent to $6,068 a tonne. The metal has enjoyed support recently following a strike at the world's biggest copper mine in Chile that took it to a 1-1/2-year high above $6,200 a tonne on Monday. [MET/L]


(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editng by Shri Navaratnam and Jacqueline Wong)