Shares make guarded gains in Asia as bond yields, resources spike

Reuters Sydney | Updated on February 22, 2021

US 10-yr yields reach 12-month peak of 1.38%; Fed Chair Powell likely to reiterate to Congress to keep policy super easy for as long as needed to drive up inflation; ECB’s Lagarde too expected to sound dovish in speech later today

Asian share markets inched up on Monday as expectations for faster economic growth and inflation globally battered bonds and boosted commodities, though rising real yields were making equity valuations look more stretched in comparison.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.2 per cent, after slipping from a record top last week as the jump in US bond yields unsettled investors.

Japan's Nikkei recouped 1.0 per cent and South Korea 0.4 per cent, but Chinese blue chips lost 1.2 per cent.

Also read: Benchmark indices open in the red

S&P 500 and EUROSTOXX 50 futures were both hesitating around flat, while FTSE futures fell 0.6 per cent.

Bonds have been bruised by the prospect of a stronger economic recovery and yet greater borrowing as President Joe Biden's $1.9-trillion stimulus package progresses.

"Yield curves have continued to steepen, as Covid-19 infection rates decline further, reopening plans are discussed and a large US fiscal stimulus package looks likely," said Christian Keller, Barclays' head of economics research.

"This, in principle, signals a better medium-term growth outlook for the US and beyond, as other core yields curves are moving in the same direction," he added. "Meanwhile, central banks seem set to look through this year's inflation increase, keeping the curves’ front end anchored."

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell delivers his semi-annual testimony before Congress this week and is likely to reiterate a commitment to keeping policy super easy for as long as needed to drive inflation higher.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde is also expected to sound dovish in a speech later Monday.

Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have already reached 1.38 per cent, breaking the psychological 1.30 per cent level and bringing the rise for the year so far to a steep 43 basis points.

Analysts at BofA noted 30-year bonds had returned -9.4 per cent in the year to date, the worst start since 2013.

"Real assets are outperforming financial assets big in ’21 as cyclical, political, secular trends say higher inflation," the analysts said in a note. "Surging commodities, energy laggards in vogue, materials in secular breakouts."

A copper-plated recovery

One of the stars has been copper, a key component of renewable technology, which shot up 7.7 per cent last week to a nine-year peak. Even the broader LMEX base metal index climbed 5.5 per cent on the week.

Oil prices have gone along for the ride, aided by tightening supplies and freezing weather, giving Brent gains of 22 per cent for the year so far.

Early Monday, Brent crude futures were up another 50 cents at $63.41 a barrel, while US crude added 45 cents to $59.69, all of which has been a boon for commodity-linked currencies, with the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars all sharply higher for the year so far.

Sterling reached a three-year top at $1.4050, aided by one of the fastest vaccine roll-outs in the world. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to outline a path from Covid-19 lockdowns on Monday.

The US dollar index has been relatively range-bound, with downward pressure from the country's expanding twin deficits balanced by higher bond yields. The index was last at 90.341, not far from where it started the year at 90.260.

Rising Treasury yields has helped the dollar gain somewhat on the yen to 105.60, given the Bank of Japan is actively restraining yields at home.

The euro was steady at $1.2128, corralled between support at $1.2021 and resistance around $1.2169.

One commodity not doing so well is gold, partly due to rising bond yields and partly as investors question if cryptocurrencies might be a better hedge against inflation.

The precious metal stood at $1,786 an ounce, having started the year at $1,896. Bitcoin was off 1.8 per cent on Monday at $56,403, but started the year at $19,700.

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Published on February 22, 2021
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