Asia stocks hover below nine-month high after Wall Street stalls

Tokyo — Asian stocks hovered below a nine-month high on Tuesday after disappointing bank earnings dented Wall Street, though recent signs that the global economy is likely to avoid a sharper downturn helped limit the losses.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed by mid-morning.

The index had risen to its highest level since July 2018 the previous day after strong export and banking data from China last week eased investors’ concerns about the health of the world’s second-largest economy.

Expectations that Chinese and US trade negotiators would strike a deal soon also lifted market confidence.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.1%. South Korea’s KOSPI fell 0.1%,  Australian stocks added 0.5%. Japan’s Nikkei edged up 0.2%. 

“The equity markets are facing some headwinds after their recent large gains,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management. “That said, market sentiment is still relatively well supported as recent Chinese indicators proved to be strong and prompted the markets to readjust their views on the global economy.”

The US-China trade dispute, signs of slowing global corporate earnings and business investment have all put pressure on riskier assets in the past year, so investors have been quick to lap up positive news.

Wall Street lost ground on Monday, dragged down as underwhelming bank earnings curbed investor enthusiasm. But while all three major US stock indexes edged lower, the S&P 500 remained within a percent of its record high.

Safe havens such as bonds, which were on the defensive following the recent improvement in investor risk appetite, were given some reprieve.

The 10-year US Treasury yield was at 2.550%,  edging back from a four-week high of 2.574% reached on Monday.

Spot gold was a shade lower at $1,286.21 an ounce and headed for its fourth straight days of losses.

Elsewhere in commodities, the recent rally in crude oil prices halted on the prospect of Russia and Opec boosting production to fight for market share with the US.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 0.15% at $63.30 per barrel after losing nearly 0.8% the previous day.

US crude had scaled a five-month high of $64.79 earlier in April.

Oil had rallied on tightening global supplies, as output has fallen in Iran and Venezuela amid signs the US will further toughen sanctions on those two Opec producers, and on the threat that renewed fighting could stop production in Libya.

The dollar, which tends to underperform when risk appetite increases, was steady at 96.980 against a basket of six major currencies, extending overnight losses.

Many investors are waiting on Chinese GDP data due on Wednesday for clues on the health of Asia’s giant economy, a major pressure point for global growth over the past year.

A Reuters poll forecast China’s first-quarter growth to have cooled to 6.3% on-year, the weakest pace in at least 27 years, but a flurry of measures to boost domestic demand may have put a floor under slowing activity in March.

“The outlook for Asia critically hinges on the outlook of China’s growth and the ongoing US-China trade talks. On both fronts, policymakers and investors believe that the outcome of these two issues is turning more positive,” wrote strategists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The euro dipped 0.05% to $1.1297 and the dollar shed 0.1% to 111.94 yen.

The Australian dollar fell 0.4% to $0.7146 after minutes from a policy meeting in April showed that the country’s central bank thought a cut in interest rates would be “appropriate” should inflation stay low and unemployment trend higher.