Singapore/New York — Asian stock markets ground higher on Friday, and are set to end a choppy week more or less where they began it as surging coronavirus infections cast a shadow over encouraging economic data and checked hopes for a swift global recovery.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3%, for a weekly gain of about 0.5%. Japan’s Nikkei rose 1% to sit flat for the week.
Bulls seem to have the upper hand in currency markets, with the US dollar down 0.3% for the week, and riskier currencies such as the Australian dollar marginally ahead. Majors were steady in morning trade on Friday.
“The market probably ran ahead of itself anticipating a smooth recovery, which has set us up for the rougher period we’re now going through,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital in Sydney.
“We’re stuck in a bit of a range. There’s a degree of optimism that any second wave will be offset by stimulus … but if we have to go back to a renewed lockdown then it’s a different story, and markets face a lot more downside risk.”
The moves followed a bumpy session on Wall Street, which finished in positive territory after a late surge led by banking stocks. Financials caught a boost from a relaxation in some capital requirements that ought to free up cash for lending.
Still, volumes were light and plenty of headwinds remain.
The governor of Texas paused the state’s reopening on Thursday as Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations surged and the country set a new record for a one-day increase in cases.
Localised restrictions to slow the virus have now been reimposed in parts of Lisbon in Portugal, western Germany, Australia’s Victoria state and Beijing.
The US Senate has also passed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on people or companies that back efforts by China to restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy, yet another potential Sino-US flashpoint.
To become law it must also pass the House and be signed by President Donald Trump.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.4% in early trade on Friday, after being closed for a holiday on Thursday. Markets in China and Taiwan remain closed.
The US Treasury market was quiet, with the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasuries steady at 0.6790%. Gold held steady at $1,761.39/oz.
Bulls and bears
The tug of war between bulls and bears this week has sent the S&P 500 ahead by as far as 1.8% and down by as much as 2.4% on the week, with Thursday’s gains leaving it flat. US stock futures were flat on Friday.
Foreign exchange markets have likewise stalled, as the virus’ progress dents confidence in bets on further gains in hard-running riskier currencies.
“Having risen for three straight months, some payback may be due for stocks and currencies in July,” strategists at Singapore’s DBS Bank said in a note on Friday.
“We would avoid currencies — Indonesian rupiah, Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar — that appreciated most in June and Q2.”
Moves in majors were small on Friday, with the Australian dollar steady at $0.6883, up 0.8% for the week, and the New Zealand dollar flat at $0.6431 and steady for the week. The Australian dollar has rallied 25% from March lows and the New Zealand dollar 18%.
After a mixed bag of US data overnight, with a smaller-than-expected drop in jobless claims but robust rise in goods orders, markets are looking for reassurance from European confidence surveys and US spending data due later on Friday.
Oil prices, a barometer of energy consumption and the global growth outlook, edged ahead to hold steady for the week.
US crude futures were last up 1.2%, or 46c, to $39.18 per barrel and Brent futures rose 1.3% to $41.58 per barrel.