Asia stocks defy broader global rally, Brexit worries emerge

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.01 per cent. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Asian stock fell slightly on Friday (Dec 18), failing to catch a broader global rally as the investor mood in the region shifted to broader caution about the economic outlook and as post-Brexit worries weighed.

Australian S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.46 per cent in early trading. Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.01 per cent. E-mini futures for the S&P 500 rose 0.01 per cent.

As the year draws to a close, markets have been swinging between broader optimism about Covid-19 vaccines and a global economic recovery and concerns about still rising infections.

"We are in an environment now where bad news is good news because it means more stimulus," said Sharon Zollner, chief economist at ANZ Research.

"That will have to change, but it is very difficult to know when central banks will stop having their foot to the floor and everyone has to reassess," she said.

Global stocks hit record highs on Thursday, fueled by growing optimism that deals will be reached over a fresh US stimulus package.

However, Britain and the European Union struck a pessimistic tone in trade talks on Thursday, with a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it was "very likely" there would be no agreement unless the bloc changed its position "substantially".

Bitcoin, too, rose another 7 per cent on Thursday after a 10 per cent gain on Wednesday that had carried the cryptocurrency over US$20,000 for the first time.

Congressional negotiators in Washington were scrambling on Thursday to agree on details of a US$900 billion Covid-19 aid bill. Lawmakers from both parties said failing to agree was not an option. Earlier Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said talks could spill into the weekend.

But markets remained confident in the new spending, which is estimated to be equivalent to 5 per cent of gross domestic product.

Pressure for pandemic relief increased as new economic data showed the number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week. And, manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region cooled in December, with factories reporting a sharp slowdown in new orders.

One bright spot in the economy was credited partly to low-interest rates: The housing market remains resilient, with homebuilding and permits powering ahead in November.

Wall Street's three main indexes closed at record highs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.5 per cent, the S&P 500 gained 0.6 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite picked up another 0.8 per cent to its third-straight daily record.

Markets were encouraged that the United States stood ready to ship 5.9 million doses of a new coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna Inc that is on the cusp on winning regulatory approval.

The United States is battling a fresh coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 17 million infected, 308,000 dead and a rising daily death toll.

The dollar's safe haven status gave way to riskier bets. The dollar index on Thursday fell as low as 89.723 against a basket currencies on Thursday, breaking below 90 for the first time since April 2018, and was last down 0.50 per cent at 89.795.

Spot gold jumped 1.1 per cent to US$1,885.37 per ounce on Thursday afternoon, having hit a one-month high earlier in the session. US gold futures settled up 1.7 per cent at US$1,890.40.

Oil climbed rose on Thursday and touched a nine-month high. Brent crude futures settled up 42 cents at US$51.50 a barrel and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose by 54 cents to US$48.36 a barrel.

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