Asia shares bounce on hopes for US stimulus, vaccine

Tokyo stocks were little changed after setting a new 29-year high. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares rose on Wednesday (Dec 2) after a strong lead from Wall Street fuelled by hopes for additional US economic stimulus and a coronavirus vaccine, but trade was choppy as some investors booked profits.

Top US Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that Congress should include new coronavirus stimulus in a US$1.4 trillion (S$1.87 trillion) spending bill aimed at heading off a government shutdown in the midst of the pandemic.

US President-elect Joe Biden told the New York Times his priority is getting a generous aid package through Congress even before he takes office in January.

Top US health officials, meanwhile, announced plans to begin vaccinating Americans against the coronavirus as early as mid-December once regulatory approvals are in place, as nationwide deaths hit the highest number for a single day in six months.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.27 per cent, but was still trading below last week's all-time high. Australian stocks rose 0.12 per cent.

Shares in China recovered from early losses and rose 0.12 per cent.

Tokyo stocks were little changed after setting a new 29-year high. Softbank Group shares fell 0.66 per cent after Bloomberg News said the tech investor is winding down its options trades on companies including and Facebook.

South Korean shares hit a record high due to signs of an increase in semiconductor demand.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was down 0.3 per cent at 1.54pm local time.

US stock futures declined 0.23 per cent following a record closing high for Wall Street shares.

Europe also looked set for a softer open, with Euro Stoxx 50 futures down 0.37 per cent, German DAX futures down 0.35 per cent, and FTSE futures trading 0.38 per cent lower.

Benchmark US Treasury yields eased slightly but remained near a three-week high as Republicans and Democrats submitted proposals for economic stimulus in a bid to pass a bill some time this month.

Analysts say downside for global equities is likely limited, with major uncertainties surrounding the outlook now fading.

"We've had some positive leads, and a combination of optimism around the vaccine, and government and central bank stimulus remains in place," said Michael McCarthy, chief markets strategist at CMC Markets. "It's a sweet spot for markets."

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe rose 0.07 per cent in Asia on Wednesday, edging toward an all-time high.

Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech SE sought emergency approval of their vaccine candidate from the European regulator on Tuesday. Competitor Moderna Inc also applied for emergency approval from the European regulator on Tuesday.

Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine could be launched in the European Union as early as this month, though a European regulator clouded the schedule when it said it would complete its review of their vaccine by Dec. 29.

The US 10-year Treasury yield stood at 0.9129 per cent in Asia, not far from a three-week high of 0.9380 per cent hit in the previous session as investors priced in the likelihood of more fiscal spending.

The spread between two-year and 10-year yields was also near its steepest in three weeks.

Higher yields did not support the dollar, which was mired near its lowest level in more than 2½ years as investor appetite for risk increased.

Earlier this year Japan's Softbank Group raised eyebrows by buying billions of dollars of call options for US tech giants while taking long positions in the underlying shares.

Some analysts say hedging by the counterparties that sold the options to Softbank contributed to a frenzied rally in the US tech sector.

"This could be big news ... and bad for the tech market," Andrew Brenner, head of international fixed income at NatAlliance Securities, said in a note, adding that it depends on how much you believe SoftBank was behind increased option volatility.

Oil prices extended losses in Asian trading after Opec and its allies left markets in limbo by postponing a formal meeting to decide whether to lift output in January.

Brent crude futures fell 0.74 per cent to US$47.01 per barrel, while US crude fell 0.88 per cent to US$44.16 per barrel.

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