Asia shares slip, US dollar gains as sterling slides

Men are reflected on an electronic board showing the Nikkei stock index outside a brokerage in Tokyo March 25, 2019. — Reuters pic
Men are reflected on an electronic board showing the Nikkei stock index outside a brokerage in Tokyo March 25, 2019. — Reuters pic

SYDNEY, July 17 — Asian shares drifted lower today after a lacklustre performance by Wall Street, while the US dollar got a lift from robust US retail data and a Brexit-driven dive in the pound.

Oil prices also took a spill on hints US tensions with Iran could be easing and as data showed stockpiles fell by less than expected last week.

Early action was muted with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan off 0.18 per cent.

Japan's Nikkei eased 0.3 per cent and South Korea 0.8 per cent. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were flat.

A surprisingly strong reading on US retail sales released overnight had outweighed weakness in industrial production for the June quarter and boosted the US dollar.

Yet, it barely budged market wagers on a Federal Reserve rate cut this month, with Chicago Fed President Charles Evans touting 50 basis points of easing.

Futures are 100 per cent priced for a cut of 25 basis points, and imply a 27 per cent chance of 50 basis points.

“We do not expect these solid (retail) results to impact the Fed's decision to cut rates at the end of the month,” said Michelle Girard, chief US economist at NatWest Markets.

“The Fed knows the US consumer is strong; policymakers are worried about the downside risks associated with global growth and weak manufacturing/business investment, which is why they believe a rate cut is appropriate.”

Analysts at Barclays were even more dovish, arguing persistent uncertainty and soft inflation warranted quarter-point cuts in July, September, and December.

Sterling stricken

Expectations of policy stimulus, and the resulting drop in bond yields, helped counter concerns about corporate profits.

JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co beat quarterly profit estimates but reported weaker net interest income. Bank of America and Netflix report today.

The Dow eased 0.09 per cent, while the S&P 500 lost 0.34 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.43 per cent. Not helping the mood was a threat from US President Donald Trump to put tariffs on another US$325 billion (RM1.33 trillion) of Chinese goods.

In currency markets, sterling was the star for all the wrong reasons. It slid 0.9 per cent overnight to 27-month lows amid fears the UK could tumble out of the European Union with no trade deal to soften the blow.

The pound was last at US$1.2409, a big come-down from its March peaks of US$1.3383.

The US dollar was a major beneficiary at 97.381 on a basket of currencies, having risen 0.5 per cent overnight. The euro fell back to US$1.1210, while the dollar firmed to 108.27 yen .

The US dollar's gains tarnished gold a little, with the precious metal easing to US$1,403.57 per ounce from a high above US$1,418 yesterday.

Oil prices tried to steady in early trade after falling more than 3 per cent overnight. Brent crude futures edged up 17 cents to US$64.52, while US crude was flat at US$57.62 a barrel. — Reuters

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