Asian shares nudge higher on stimulus hopes

Reuters TOKYO | Updated on August 20, 2019 Published on August 20, 2019

An investor walks past a screen displaying stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China.   -  REUTERS

Riskier assets get a boost as fears of global recession ease

Asian shares extended their gains on Tuesday as hopes for stimulus in major economies tempered anxiety about a global recession, boosting riskier assets and drawing money from safe-havens such as bonds and gold.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.31 per cent, while Japan's Nikkei rose 0.45 per cent. The improved mood was helped by a rally on Wall Street overnight, with the S&P 500 gaining 1.21 per cent.

Shares in China and Hong Kong opened lower and swung in and out of negative territory after China lowered its lending reference rate only slightly in the first publication of a new benchmark since new interest rate reforms were announced on Saturday.

Oil futures were also down in a tentative sign that worries about an attack at a Saudi oil field over the weekend have eased, but some traders were nervously monitoring an Iranian tanker at the centre of a clash between Tehran and Washington.

For now, however, investors were cheered by signs policymakers were willing to do more to support their economies in the grip of international trade frictions, led by the bruising Sino-US tariff tussle.

The immediate focus shifts to the minutes of the US Federal Reserve's last meeting due on Wednesday. Traders are also keenly waiting on the Fed's Jackson Hole seminar and a Group of Seven summit this weekend for clues on what additional steps policymakers will take to bolster growth.

Senior White House officials are discussing a temporary payroll tax cut to boost the economy, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Hopes for additional stimulus are rising after reports that Germany is prepared to increase fiscal spending, and after the People's Bank of China took steps to lower corporate borrowing costs.

“There are expectations for looser monetary policy everywhere in the world, and this is cushioning the markets against recent uncertain developments,” said Masayuki Kichikawa, chief macro strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co in Tokyo.

“China is prepared to do a lot for its economy. I hope to hear more about fiscal spending in Germany. Central banks have no choice but to ease. The remaining question is what comes from fiscal policy.”

US stock futures were a shade lower in Asian trading, down 0.14 per cent, while benchmark 10-year Treasuries yields eased slightly to 1.5893 per cent, and 2-year yields traded at 1.5248 per cent.

Elsewhere, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.69 per cent, while South Korea's KOSPI index rose 0.24 per cent.

China set its new one-year Loan Prime Rate at 4.25 per cent, down 6 basis points from 4.31 per cent previously. It was 10 basis points lower than the People's Bank of China's existing benchmark one-year lending rate.

The new five-year LPR rate was set at 4.85 per cent, according to the national interbank funding centre.

Chinese shares initially fell at the open but recovered to trade up 0.19 per cent. Stocks in Hong Kong also rose 0.15 per cent, erasing an earlier loss.

“China has liberalised the lending rate, but they couldn't shock the banking system by taking rates down sharply,” said Sean Darby, global equity strategist at Jefferies in Hong Kong.

“They have to do this incrementally. They announced this over the weekend to show the direction they're headed. From that standpoint, I don't think it's disappointing.”

Markets overwhelmingly expect the Fed to cut rates again at its September 17-18 policy meeting from the current 2.00 per cent-2.25 per cent. The Fed cut rates in July for the first time in a decade to mitigate the effects of the US-China trade row and a global slowdown.

Last week, financial markets went into a tailspin after the Treasury yield curve briefly inverted when short-term yields traded above those of long-term paper. Investors, who feared a steep global downturn given an inverted yield curve has presaged several past US recessions, dumped riskier assets.

However, a bounce in yields from lows hit last week has eased some of the concerns about the global economy.

Gold, which is traditionally bought as a safe-haven during times of uncertainty, held steady at $1,495.69 per ounce after tumbling 1.2 per cent on Monday, its biggest daily decline in about a month.

The Swiss franc, another safe-haven asset, was last quoted at 0.9815 per dollar, near a two-week low.

In the oil market, US West Texas Intermediate futures fell 0.27 per cent to $56.06 a barrel in a sign of receding concern about tension in West Asia, but some traders warn this lull could be temporary.

Refinitiv data shows an Iranian tanker that was detained in Gibraltar is now on its way to Greece, but the US State Department has warned that any assistance to the vessel could be considered as providing support to a US-designated terrorist organisation.

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Published on August 20, 2019
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