April 13, 2024


Delighting finance buffs

Coronavirus: Asian shares off to cautious start, US crude slides

Caution gripped Asian share markets on Monday on expectations a busy week of corporate earnings reports and economic data will drive home the damage done by the global virus lockdown, while US crude prices took an early spill.

Japan reported its exports fell almost 12 per cent in March from a year earlier, with shipments to the US down over 16 per cent. Early readings on April manufacturing globally are due on Thursday and are expected to show recession-like readings.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan eased 0.2 per cent in slow early trade, with a pause needed after five straight weeks of gains. Japan’s Nikkei fell 1.3 per cent and South Korea 0.1 per cent.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.7 per cent, having jumped last week on hopes some U.S. states would soon start to re-open their economies.

US President Donald Trump said Sunday that Republicans were “close” to getting a deal with Democrats on a support package for small business.

But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase of 29,916 in new infections and said the number of deaths had risen by 1,759 to 37,202.

The S&P 500 has still rallied 30 per cent from its March low, thanks in part to the extreme easing steps taken by the Federal Reserve. The Fed has bought nearly $1.3 trillion of Treasuries alone, and many billions of non-sovereign debt it would historically have never gone near.

“The Fed will be a major buyer of risky assets in the coming months, and has displayed its willingness to backstop virtually any part of the domestic financial system in trouble,” said Oliver Jones, a senior markets economist at Capital Economics.

Yet the particular composition of the S&P 500 was also a major factor, he added, as three sectors relatively resilient to a virus-induced lockdown — IT, communications services and healthcare — make up around 50 per cent of the index.

Indeed, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook account for more than a fifth of the index.

“What’s more, the S&P 500 is skewed towards a few ultra-large firms, some of which are also in those sectors. Their sheer size might make them better able to weather a few months of dramatically-low revenues than most.”

The rebound in the S&P 500 therefore likely overstated optimism on the economy, Jones argued, noting European benchmark equities indices and US small cap indices were still in bear market territory.

Bond markets suggested investors expected tough economic times ahead with yields on U.S. 10-year Treasuries steady at 0.65 per cent, from 1.91 per cent at the start of the year.

That decline has shrunk the US dollar’s yield advantage over its peers and left it rangebound in recent weeks. So far in April, the dollar index has wandered between 98.813 and 100.940 and was last at 99.791.

The dollar was a fraction firmer on the yen on Monday at 107.63 but again well within recent ranges, while the euro idled at $1.0868.

Gold had recoiled to $1,676 per ounce, having touched a 7-1/2 peak of $1,746.50 last week.

Oil prices remained under pressure as the global lockdown saw fuel demand evaporate, leaving so much extra supply countries were finding it hard to find space to store it.

So great was the near-term glut that the May futures contract for US crude was trading down 7 per cent at $16.96 a barrel, while June was standing at $24.28.

Brent crude futures have already rolled over into June and that contract was off 32 cents at $27.75 a barrel.

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