Asian equities edge up as Japan outperforms, dollar regains traction
TOKYO – Asian stocks shook off a sluggish start and edged up on Monday, with Japan outperforming on upbeat earnings, while the dollar regained traction as the US government looked likely to avoid a shutdown.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.1 percent. Japan’s Nikkei climbed 0.4 percent, with high-tech blue chips gaining on strong earnings.
Asian shares initially took their cue from Wall Street, which dipped on Friday after data showed the US economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter.
The mood brightened slightly, however, on news that US congressional negotiators hammered out a bipartisan agreement on a spending package to keep the federal government funded through Sept. 30, thus averting a government shutdown.
Pointing to a higher open for the main market later in the day, S&P mini futures gained about 0.1 percent while the safe-haven US 10-year Treasury yield rose after three successive days of declines.
Overall reaction was still limited as many markets in Asia and Europe are closed for Labour Day.
“It is hard for markets to make big moves with holidays in so many places today, and people are just waiting for more information to come out,” said Harumi Taguchi, principal economist at IHS Markit in Tokyo.
While US consumer spending has almost stalled, a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses, limiting Wall Street losses. Moreover, strong earnings have kept the US equity market at or near record levels.
“The main focus of the broader markets this week will be on the United States, with the Fed’s May 2-3 policy meeting and the jobs report on Friday,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management in Tokyo.
“While many of the indicators in the first quarter were weak, the jobs data could confirm that labour market conditions continue to improve and lift the dollar and US yields.”
Asian markets were little fazed by China’s official manufacturing survey on Sunday which showed growth in the country’s factories slowed more than expected in April to a six-month low.
As trading resumed on Monday the safe-haven yen initially rose against the dollar in response to Saturday’s missile test by North Korea.
But the dollar gradually regained traction after the knee-jerk reaction to the missile test faded.
The greenback was up 0.1 percent at 111.620 yen , edging back towards a four-week peak of 111.780 scaled last week when Emmanuel Macron’s victory against anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the first round of France’s presidential elections reduced demand for the safe-haven currency. The runoff vote is on May 7.
The euro handed back earlier modest gains and was flat at $1.0891.
The common currency had been lifted on Friday after euro zone inflation data rose more than expected and returned to the European Central Bank’s target.
The euro was still in range of the 5-1/2-month high of $1.0951 struck early last week on relief over the first round of the French presidential elections.
The pound was 0.3 percent lower at $1.2907 after climbing to a seven-month high of $1.2957 on Friday, when traders were seen to have closed off bets against the pound ahead of Britain’s long bank holiday weekend. The dollar index against a basket of major currencies rose 0.1 percent to 99.143.
The Australian and New Zealand dollars were slightly lower at $0.7483 and $0.6856 , respectively. In commodities, crude oil prices slipped amid lingering concerns that an OPEC-led production cut has failed to significantly tighten an oversupplied market.
US crude shed 11 cents to $49.22 a barrel, heading back towards a one-month low of $48.20 plumbed late last week and Brent was down 16 cents at $51.89 per barrel. Spot gold gave back Friday’s gains as the dollar bounced and slipped 0.35 percent to $1,262.90 an ounce. -Reuters