Asian shares at 2-month high as markets await Trump news conference

Businessmen walk past the electronics stock indicator displaying the morning session closing rate in Tokyo.
Businessmen walk past the electronics stock indicator displaying the morning session closing rate in Tokyo.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares pulled ahead to two-month highs on Wednesday (Jan 11) as investors looked to President-elect Donald Trump's news conference later in the day for any clues to his policies on tax, fiscal spending, international trade and currencies.

While his plan for tax cuts and infrastructure spending has boosted US shares and the US dollar, his protectionist statements during the months-long election campaign have kept many investors on edge.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.4 per cent to two-month highs, essentially coming back to where it was just before the US election after recovering from losses of over 5 per cent.

The gains were led by South Korean shares, which scaled a 1½-year peak as Samsung Electronic hit a record high, cheered by its solid earnings published last week.

Japan's Nikkei ticked up 0.4 per cent, snapping three days of losses.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 ended flat on Tuesday, as investors looked also to the start of the earnings season this week to assess if the record levels are justified, following 5 per cent gains since the election.

"There are underlying expectations that Trump's tax cuts and infrastructure spending will boost the US economy, which should support markets," said Mr Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

"On the other hand, if he takes a hardline stance on China in line with his campaign promises, then China would probably take counter-measures, raising concerns about tensions between the US and China," he added.

Mr Trump has vowed to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office and has threatened to slap huge tariffs on imports from China.

US House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and top members of Mr Trump's transition team are discussing a controversial plan to tax imports.

Economists have warned that protectionist measures could stifle international trade and hurt global growth.

The Mexican peso is taking the brunt of such concerns, hitting a record low on Tuesday.

The peso has lost 16 per cent of its value against the dollar since Mr Trump was elected.

The US currency lost some of its steam against most other currencies as US bond yields have come down, reducing the dollar's yield allure.

The US 10-year yield stood at 2.39 per cent, having fallen considerably from its two-year high of 2.641 per cent touched on Dec 15.

That pushed the dollar's index against a basket of six major currencies back to 102.15, compared to its 14-year high of 103.82 set on Jan 3.

The euro was fetching US$1.0543, having gained 0.1 per cent so far this week. The dollar traded at 116.10 yen, not far from a three-week low of 115.06 touched on Jan 6.

Bucking the trend was the British pound, which wobbled at US$1.2166, having hit a 2½-month low of US$1.2107 on Tuesday, pressured by UK Prime Minister Theresa May saying she was not interested in Britain keeping "bits" of its EU membership.

That fuelled fears she was setting the course for a "hard Brexit" in which immigration control is prioritised over retaining access to the EU's lucrative single market.

The Turkish lira also slumped to record lows, exceeding 4.0 to the euro for the first time as the country confronts Islamic State and Kurdish militant bombings, an economic slowdown, and political uncertainty over plans to extend President Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

Oil prices stabilised for now after having fallen to their lowest in nearly a month on Tuesday, when they slid about 2 per cent as doubts mounted over whether producing countries could keep to a deal to cut output.

Global benchmark Brent crude futures traded at US$53.78 a barrel, having fallen to US$53.58 on Tuesday, touching their lowest level since Dec 15.