Asia stocks going nowhere as virus resurgence holds optimism in check

Pedestrians pass by an electronic quotation board in Tokyo on June 16, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Asian stock markets ground higher on Friday (June 26), and are set to end a choppy week more or less where they began it as surging coronavirus infections cast a shadow over encouraging economic data and checked hopes for a swift global recovery.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3 per cent, for a weekly gain of around 0.5 per cent. Japan's Nikkei rose 1 per cent to sit flat for the week.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.4 per cent in early trade on Friday, after being closed for a holiday on Thursday. Markets in China and Taiwan remain closed.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 0.8 per cent at 11:21am local time.

Bulls seem to have the upper hand in currency markets, with the US dollar down 0.3 per cent for the week, and riskier currencies such as the Australian dollar marginally ahead. Majors were steady in morning trade on Friday.

"The market probably ran ahead of itself anticipating a smooth recovery, which has set us up for the rougher period we're now going through," said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital in Sydney.

"We're stuck in a bit of a range. There's a degree of optimism that any second wave will be offset by stimulus ... but if we have to go back to a renewed lockdown then it's a different story, and markets face a lot more downside risk."

The moves followed a bumpy session on Wall Street, which finished in positive territory after a late surge led by banking stocks. Financials caught a boost from a relaxation in some capital requirements that ought to free up cash for lending.

Still, volumes were light and plenty of headwinds remain.

The governor of Texas paused the state's reopening on Thursday as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surged and the country set a new record for a one-day increase in cases.

Localised restrictions to slow the virus have now been re-imposed in parts of Lisbon in Portugal, western Germany, Australia's Victoria state and Beijing.

The US Senate has also passed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on people or companies that back efforts by China to restrict Hong Kong's autonomy, yet another potential Sino-US flashpoint.

To become law it must also pass the House and be signed by President Donald Trump.

The US Treasury market was quiet, with the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasuries steady at 0.6790 per cent. Gold held steady at US$1,761.39 an ounce.


The tug of war between bulls and bears this week has sent the S&P 500 ahead by as far 1.8 per cent and down by as much as 2.4 per cent on the week, with Thursday's gains leaving it flat. US stock futures were flat on Friday.

Foreign exchange markets have likewise stalled, as the virus' progress dents confidence in bets on further gains in hard-running riskier currencies.

"Having risen for three straight months, some payback may be due for stocks and currencies in July," strategists at Singapore's DBS Bank said in a note on Friday.

"We would avoid currencies - Indonesian rupiah, Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar - that appreciated most in June and Q2."

Moves in majors were small on Friday, with the Aussie steady at US$0.6883, up 0.8 per cent for the week, and the kiwi flat at US$0.6431 and steady for the week. The Aussie has rallied 25 per cent from March lows and the kiwi 18 per cent.

After a mixed bag of US data overnight, with a smaller-than-expected drop in jobless claims but robust rise in goods orders, markets are looking for reassurance from European confidence surveys and US spending data due later on Friday.

Oil prices, a barometer of energy consumption and so the global growth outlook, edged ahead to hold steady for the week.

US crude futures were last up 1.2 per cent or 46 cents to US$39.18 per barrel and Brent futures rose 1.3 per cent to US$41.58 per barrel.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.