Asia stocks adrift as vaccine rally falters: STI down 0.9%

A currency dealer works in front of an electronic signboard at the headquarters of Hana Bank in Seoul on May 14, 2020.
A currency dealer works in front of an electronic signboard at the headquarters of Hana Bank in Seoul on May 14, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Asian stocks struggled to extend the week's rally on Wednesday (May 20) and gold and bonds firmed as a sceptical press report dented some hopes for a Covid-19 vaccine and concerns about bumps in the global recovery from the pandemic returned.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was flat. The risk-sensitive Australian dollar retreated from an overnight two-month high and safe-haven demand drove US Treasury yields back under 0.7 per cent.

The moves follow a downbeat end to the day on Wall Street, after a report from medical news website STAT cast doubt over positive early results from a Moderna Inc Covid-19 vaccine trial. The report said the results, which had rallied global stocks this week, lacked detail.

Chinese stocks began the day a little lower and Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.1 per cent. Australia's benchmark was flat while a soft yen helped the Nikkei 0.7 per cent higher.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was down 0.9 per cent at 11:30am local time.

"This is probably more a stabilisation than anything else, because markets have rallied hard on opening up and the potential for a V-shaped recovery," said Jun Bei Liu, a portfolio manager at Australia's Tribeca Investment Partners.

"The market is a little bit directionless...from here on, it certainly feels like we will see a lot more poor economic data," she said, with investors likely to take their strongest cues from company outlook commentaries and confidence surveys.

Two thirds of 223 fund managers surveyed by Bank of America reckon recent gains are a bear-market rally.

S&P 500 futures were last up 0.5 per cent after wobbling around flat through the morning. Oil was steady and benchmark 10-year yields on US Treasuries dipped 1.5 basis points to 0.6964 per cent. Yields fall when prices rise.

Gold rose slightly to US$1,750.19 per ounce.

WOBBLY RECOVERY

Doubts about the outlook held back commodity prices from further gains, as more bad news poured forth.

Japanese business confidence slumped to a decade low as the economy entered recession while Australian retail sales suffered their steepest ever dive in April. British jobless claims are at their highest in 20 years.

And the US economy won't recover its lost ground until sometime after next year, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday.

Brent crude futures steadied at US$34.73 per barrel, having rallied nearly 7 per cent this week, and US crude held at US$31.97 a barrel.

"While countries have started to relax restrictions on economic and social activities, economies will not return to where things were before the outbreak," said strategist at Singapore's DBS bank in a note.

"Geopolitical tensions, especially between the US and China, have also returned and are likely to intensify into the US elections in November."

In currency markets the euro remained supported in the afterglow of a Franco-German proposal for a common relief fund - a possible way through tensions between European Union members. It inched up to US$1.0938.

Other majors steadied, while the Aussie and kiwi battled, mostly without success, to break out of the ranges that have held them for months.