Asia stocks take heart in stimulus speculation

Pedestrians are reflected in a stock market indicator board in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 7, 2019.
Pedestrians are reflected in a stock market indicator board in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug 7, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Asian shares found some footing on Friday (Aug 16) after a turbulent week as China hinted at more support for its economy, amid growing expectations of aggressive stimulus from all the major central banks.

Sentiment got a lift when China's state planner said Beijing would roll out a plan to boost disposable income, though details were lacking.

A bounce in US and European stock futures also helped, with E-Minis for the S&P 500 up 0.55 per cent and the EUROSTOXX 50 rising 0.5 per cent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan responded by edging up 0.2 per cent, though it was still down 1 per cent for the week.

Japan's Nikkei recouped early losses to be 0.09 per cent firmer, while Shanghai blue chips rose 0.7 per cent.

The Sino-US trade dispute remained a drag after Beijing on Thursday vowed to counter the latest tariffs on US$300 billion of Chinese goods.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he believed China wanted to make a deal and that the dispute would be fairly short, despite it already lasting more than a year.

With no settlement in sight, investors have hedged against a global slowdown by buying bonds. Yields on 30-year debt hit an all-time low of 1.916 per cent to be down 27 basis points for the week, the sharpest such decline since mid-2012.

That meant investors were willing to lend the government money for three decades for less than the overnight rate.

Such is the gloom that surprisingly strong US retail sales came and went with no impact on the bond rally.

Analysts have cautioned that the current bond market is a different beast than in the past and might not be sending a true signal on recession.

"The bond market may have got it wrong this time, but we would not dismiss the latest recession signals on grounds of distortions," said Simon MacAdam, global economist at Capital Economics.

"Rather, it is of some comfort for the world economy that unlike all previous US yield curve inversions, the Fed has already begun loosening monetary policy this time."


Indeed, futures imply a one-in-three chance the Federal Reserve will chop rates by 50 basis points at its September meeting, and see them reaching just 1 per cent by the end of next year.

There were plenty of other signs the cavalry were coming.

European Central Banker Olli Rehn on Thursday flagged the need for a significant easing package in September.

Markets are keyed for a cut in the deposit rate of at least 10 basis points and a resumption of bond buying, sending German 10-year bund yields to a record low of -0.71 per cent.

"Notions that the package will include a revamped QE programme also saw a sharp rally in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese debt," said Tapas Strickland, a director of economics at National Australia Bank.

"If the ECB undertakes such substantive stimulus, it is unlikely to do so alone given the upward pressure it would put on the US dollar."

Mexico overnight became the latest country to surprise with a cut in rates, the first in five years.

Canada's yield curve inverted by the most in nearly two decades, piling pressure on the Bank of Canada to act.

All the talk of ECB easing knocked the euro back to US$1.1099 and away from a top of US$1.1230 early in the week. That helped lift the dollar index up to 98.217 and off the week's trough of 97.033.

The dollar could make little headway on the safe-haven yen, though, and idled at 106.20 yen.

The collapse in bond yields continued to make non-interest paying gold look relatively more attractive and the metal held at US$1,521.20, just off a six-year peak.

Oil prices were trying to bounce after two days of sharp losses. Brent crude futures added 46 cents to US$58.69, while US crude rose 59 cents to US$55.06 a barrel.