Asian stocks head lower on fears of fresh virus cases

USA & World

Asian stocks head lower on fears of fresh virus cases

Asian stocks came under pressure on Tuesday as investors struggled to balance hopes for more economic stimulus and vaccines with fresh concerns about a surge in COVID-19 infections.

Mixed Asian trade followed a similarly mixed Wall Street session in which the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite closed at a record high while the two other main United States indices fell.

European markets also struggled for direction with London’s FTSE down 0.3 percent and Eurostoxx 50 futures and those of Germany’s DAX flat.

“You saw more than a slight moderation to the S&P 500, and the Dow, but you’re still looking at these markets at record highs,” said Tom Piotrowski, a market analyst with CommSec. “It’s a matter of looking out for what the next catalyst is for these markets.”

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan narrowed its losses from early trade, but was still down 0.02 percent as anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic capped sentiment.

Waiting for the next shoe to drop

“Signs that traders have trimmed risk are there, with some focus on US COVID-19 trends,” Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone Group Ltd, wrote in a note. Renewed focus on trade tensions and the ongoing Brexit negotiations, suggest “this selective mindset is just the market sitting on its hands waiting for the next shoe to drop”.

Among Asia’s top markets, Australian shares closed higher for a sixth straight session, lifted by data showing an improvement in business sentiment. The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent to 6,687.7, adding about 3 percent in the past six sessions.

However, Japan’s Nikkei 225 dipped 0.22 percent and Seoul’s Kospi lost 1.53 percent.

Chinese blue chips remained flat while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 0.56 percent, as China-US tensions continued to weigh on the market.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi assured US executives that Beijing remained committed to the phase one trade deal with the United States. That came as a report showed China’s purchases of US goods and services as of October, specified in the phase one deal at $75.5bn for 2020, was about half the level they should be on a pro-rated annual basis.

On Wall Street on Monday, the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.45 percent while the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.49 percent and the S&P 500 lost 0.19 percent.

[Bloomberg] US stimulus watch

Some investors are watching whether US policymakers can reinvigorate efforts to pass additional pandemic stimulus. The US Congress is expected to vote this week on a one-week stopgap funding bill to give negotiators more time to strike a compromise, as the business community cautioned inaction could spur a deeper recession.

At the same time, California, the nation’s most populous state, announced new restrictions on travel and business activity after record case numbers and hospitalisations. Officials in New York warned similar restrictions could be employed soon, which further weigh on the nation’s recovery.

The dollar slid against most currencies as investors eyed potential stimulus and vaccine development. An index that tracks the dollar against a basket of currencies was little changed at 90.829, not far from 90.471, its weakest since April 2018.

Sterling clung to hopes of a meeting between British Prime Minister Boris Johnston and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen salvaging a Brexit trade deal.

The British currency was on edge but holding on at $1.3360 in the Asia afternoon session, well above Monday’s low of $1.3225.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year notes rose slightly to 0.9361 percent on Tuesday.

Oil prices fell, extending losses from the previous session. Brent crude fell 0.72 percent and US crude dipped 0.57 percent. Prices came under pressure after Reuters reported the US was preparing sanctions against at least 12 Chinese officials over alleged roles in Beijing’s disqualification of elected opposition legislators in Hong Kong.

Spot gold prices were 0.22 percent higher at $1,867.70 per ounce, and US gold futures settled up 0.31 percent at $1,871.7, as investors bet on more stimulus money being pumped into the financial system.