Asian stocks tread water on US, commodities concerns

An electronics stocks indicator in Tokyo displaying the closing rate of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
An electronics stocks indicator in Tokyo displaying the closing rate of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Asian stocks are set for a third straight day of losses on Friday (May 5) as a retreat in crude oil and other commodities prices knocked global sentiment, although receding concerns about France's presidential election kept the euro near six-month highs.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan opened flat on Friday. Japan and South Korea markets are closed for trading.

Commodity prices across the board tumbled, led by oil, which fell by 5 per cent in overnight trading on concerns of a supply glut with analysts forecasting further losses.

"The rout in markets is unlikely to turn around quickly," ANZ strategists wrote in a daily note. "Oil markets face further potentially bearish data, with the US rig count likely to add to the bearishness."

Oil prices plunged to five-month lows on Thursday amid record trading volume in Brent crude, as Opec and other producers appeared to rule out deeper supply cuts to reduce the world's persistent glut of crude.

Copper prices slid to four-month lows, following their biggest one-day drop in 20 months while Chinese iron ore futures tumbled 8 per cent on Thursday on concerns that global commodity demand are set to fall sharply.

The weakness in commodities washed over to stocks, countering some fairly solid earnings reports and some cautious optimism about US President Donald Trump's reform plans after the US House of Representatives passed a healthcare overhaul.

Traders also remained cautious ahead of Friday's US government payrolls report, following March's underwhelming 98,000 figure. Economists on average expect 185,000 jobs were created in April.

Futures traders are pricing in a 79 per cent chance of a June rate hike, up from 68 per cent a week earlier, according to the CME Group's FedWatch Tool.

That hurt US Treasury notes with yields on benchmark 10-year notes yielding 2.36 per cent, their highest since April 10, and up from 2.31 per cent late on Wednesday.

The euro settled at a six-month high against the US dollar after centrist Emmanuel Macron consolidated his position to win France's presidential race against anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen.

Beyond Sunday's vote, traders will be looking to the European Central Bank for clues on its plans to reduce its bond-buying programme.

Prospects of higher US interest rates dampened demand for gold with the safe-haven asset changing hands at US$1,228 per ounce.