(Reuters) - Asian markets rose across the board Monday as policy easing by China and expectations that Greece will secure a second bailout buoyed investor appetite for riskier assets, sending U.S. crude up nearly 2 percent and copper nearly 3 percent higher.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> rose 1.1 percent to its highest in 6- months, with Chinese and Japanese shares outperforming. The Shanghai Composite <.SSEC> surged 1.3 percent, underpinned by bank shares. Japan's Nikkei <.N225> gained 1.4 percent, as a weaker yen also lifted sentiment.
Optimism about a deal that will keep Greece afloat for now, and conviction that central banks around the world are committed to supporting growth through ultra-easy policy, fuelled buying in base metals such as copper, oil, precious metals and commodity-linked currencies such as the Australian dollar.
China's central bank on Saturday cut its reserve requirement ratio (RRR) -- the amount of cash banks must hold in reserves -- boosting lending capacity by an estimated 350-400 billion yuan ($55.6-$63.5 billion).
While the cut suggests that policymakers may be mildly concerned over the slowing pace of economic activity, overall, we think the RRR cut will most likely result in an acceleration of economic activity and that China's Q1 growth is likely to surprise us on the upside, said ANZ in a research note.
The cut, which analysts said had been long awaited, came just days after Japan strengthened monetary easing, underscoring global central banks' drive to shield their economies from the debt crisis in the euro zone by flooding the system with cash.
Expectations that the European Central Bank will add massive amounts of liquidity at its second funding operation later this month have also supported riskier assets in recent sessions.
While the actual RRR cut was as expected, the PBOC clearly supporting economic growth in the world's second largest economy is positive for the AUD, NZD and risk assets more broadly, said Annette Beacher, head of Asia-Pacific research at TD Securities.
Asian credit markets firmed, with a recovery in risk appetite narrowing the spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment grade index by 7 basis points.
The yen hit a 6-1/2-month low against the dollar around 79.89, while the euro rose 0.6 percent to $1.3214. The Australian dollar gained nearly a full cent from late New York levels to a high of $1.0817.
Euro zone finance ministers are expected to approve the 130-billion-euro rescue programme for Greece at a meeting on Monday, and while there is still scepticism over Athens' commitments -- including implementing 3.3 billion euros of spending cuts and tax increases -- officials said momentum was behind approving the deal.
We expect Greece to make headway towards receiving the funds needed to avoid a near-term default and for markets to remain constructive on risk while keeping an eye on the downside, Barclays Capital said in a note.
Senior officials from euro zone finance ministries and the ECB held a conference call on Sunday to discuss the final details for Greece's second bailout since 2010, including a debt sustainability analysis critical to the International Monetary Fund.
Without the bailout, Greece would miss a crucial March 20 deadline to pay a 14.5 billion euro bond redemption.
GOLD/BRENT RATIO FALLS
The price ratio of gold relative to Brent crude oil fell to its lowest level since early January, a signal that technical analysts regard as bullish for riskier assets such as shares and commodities.
Declining Gold/Oil ratios have historically proven positive for global stocks and risk appetite, Ashraf Laidi, chief global strategist at City Index Group, said, adding that if the gold/Brent ratio falls below its 200-week moving average, it could pave the way for further rallies in equities.
The ratio currently stood around 14.34, a tad above the 200 week moving average around 14.23.
Gold was up 0.7 percent on Monday, a slower pace relative to other asset classes, suggesting the market may be near a top.
Growing investor confidence over risk-taking eclipsed some of gold's safe-haven appeal, with money managers in gold futures and options reducing their net long position in the week of February 14 for their first decline in five weeks.
U.S. crude rose nearly 2 percent, or $2, to a 9-month high above $105 barrel, while Brent rose more than $1 to above $121 a barrel on Monday, its highest in eight months. Crude prices were boosted after Iran halted oil sales to Britain and France.
(Additional reporting by Ian Chua and Reuters FX analyst Krishna Kumar in Sydney; Editing by Alex Richardson)