Tokyo — Asian stocks rose on Wednesday after tech sector strength lifted Wall Street shares while concern about Italy’s debt prompted investors to move into lower-risk government debt elsewhere, pushing US treasury yields down from recent highs.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5%, as did Japan’s Nikkei.
A firmer than expected print on first quarter growth lifted Australian stocks by 0.4%. The Nasdaq closed at a record high for the second consecutive day on Tuesday with help from the technology and consumer discretionary sectors, aided by the upbeat outlook for the US economy.
But the S&P 500 dipped, with the financial sector hit by lower treasury yields, which can reduce banks’ profits.
Treasury yields fell as investors moved back into safe-haven government debt after Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte vowed to enact economic policies that could add to the nation’s already-heavy debt load.
On the other hand, the debt concerns caused Italian government bond yields to rise again after they had declined to one-week lows on Monday.
“The Italian political situation will remain uncertain, and considering its potential impact on European Central Bank [ECB] policy, market volatility could continue to be relatively high,” said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.
The currency market’s response to comments from the new Italian prime minister was more positive, with the euro gaining after Conte said the government had no plans to leave the eurozone.
The euro was a shade higher at $1.1725 after gaining about 0.2% overnight. The currency had fallen to a 10-month low of $1.1510 on May 29 on worries about Italy exiting the eurozone.
The lingering concern over tit-for-tat trade tariffs and the risk of a bigger global trade war remained in the background, weighing on investor sentiment.
In the latest developments, Mexico imposed tariffs on a range of American products, retaliating for US President Donald Trump’s decision last week to remove an exemption on steel and aluminium for allies Mexico, Canada and the EU.
Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow also revived the possibility that the president would seek to replace Nafta with bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico.
The threat of rising trade protectionism had already taken a toll on global trade and could increase risks to growth, ANZ analysts Daniel Been and Giulia Lavinia Specchia said in a note.
“Against this backdrop, we believe financial markets will become even more sensitive to bad news,” they wrote, while recommending a defensive stance on risk-taking.
The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was almost unchanged at 93.81.
The US currency was little changed at ¥109.850 after being nudged off a near two-week high above ¥110.00 scaled the previous day as US yields fell overnight.
The Australian dollar was just off highs of $0.7665. It gained a quarter of a US cent after data showed Australia’s economy grew 1.0% in the first three months of this year from the preceding quarter, beating market expectations.
The 10-year treasury note yield was at 2.9269%, having pulled back from a 10-day high of 2.946% scaled on Monday.
In commodities, Brent crude futures were up 26 cents at $75.63 a barrel. The contract went as low as $73.81, the weakest since May 8, the previous day after a report that the US government had asked Saudi Arabia and other major exporters to increase oil output.