Asia markets extend gains on glimmers of hope in virus fight

A staff member checks the body temperature of a student as grade three high school students return after the term opening was delayed due to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, in Bozhou in China’s eastern Anhui province on April 7, 2020. — AFP pic
A staff member checks the body temperature of a student as grade three high school students return after the term opening was delayed due to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, in Bozhou in China’s eastern Anhui province on April 7, 2020. — AFP pic

HONG KONG, April 7 — Equities rallied again today as investors seized on signs of a slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus in key hotspots and some governments began making plans to ease restrictions aimed at containing the disease.

Crude prices were also lifted by hopes major producers will agree to cut output this week, while the pound clawed back some of its losses that came in response to news Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in intensive care.

Asia extended yesterday’s rally following a surge on Wall Street, with much-needed optimism on news that fresh cases were slowing in Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

And in the US epicentre New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that for the first time the growth rate there was flat, while on Tuesday, China — where the disease first emerged late last year — reported no new deaths for the first time since January.

Meanwhile, Denmark and Austria have started making plans to lift restrictions slowly as they see light at the end of the tunnel.

“You can’t say that we’ve definitely turned the corner for certain but it does appear as though that is a good sign,” Mark Heppenstall, at Penn Mutual Asset Management, said.

Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai stocks were all around two per cent higher, while Seoul and Taipei each jumped 1.8 per cent.

Mumbai and Bangkok soared six per cent, while Singapore piled on more than three per cent.

Manila and Wellington also rose, though Sydney and Jakarta slipped.

In early trade, London, Paris and Frankfurt were also enjoying strong gains.

“Falling infection and death rates from Covid-19 in the worst of the European and US epicentres has inspired markets that the worst of the outbreak is peaking,” said OANDA’s Jeffrey Halley.

“Whether that is, in fact, the case or not... a world hungry for any good news has leapt on board the recovery trade with equities, in particular, outperforming.”

Adding to the positive vibe were further measures to support economies around the world, including a trillion-dollar package in Japan and central bank moves in China.

And with the ink barely dry on a US$2 trillion rescue plan passed by Congress last month, Donald Trump said he favoured another massive spending programme — again roughly US$2 trillion — this time targeting infrastructure projects.

EU leaders are also closing in on a rescue for nations worst hit in the region, according to sources, though not at the level called for by Italy and Spain.

The bloc’s finance ministers will hold a videoconference today, when they are expected to agree to use the eurozone’s US$443-billion bailout fund. However, it is thought they will not act on a proposal to issue “coronabonds” that would pool borrowing among EU nations.

While the mood is a little better on trading floors, analysts remained cautious.

“Still, the market will need to come up for air, as for the real economy to recover the pace of play will be dictated more by (governments’) willingness to relax social distancing measures, and the Covid-19 curve would probably need to flatten much more,” said AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

Fresh wave warning

Rodrigo Catril at National Australia Bank warned there was still a risk of another wave of infections.

“An uplift in containment measures is great news but in all likelihood the removal of containment measures will be very slow and the full economic impact remains unknown.”

In a sign of the concern about the toll on the world economy, France’s finance minister said the country was headed for its worst recession since World War II, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the virus outbreak was the biggest challenge ever for the European Union.

The gains in equities were matched by an uptick in oil prices, which were also supported by hopes Opec and other major producers led by Russia will reach a supply deal in talks on Thursday.

Prices fell to 18-year lows last week owing to a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which have ramped up output.

“Prices recovered some of the early losses, as both Russia and Saudi Arabia suggested they would be willing to cut production but only if the rest of the world followed suit,” ANZ Bank said in a note.

“The stumbling block appears to be the US, which is reluctant to join an agreement.”

But with US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette holding talks with Saudi Arabia and Russia, “the market is hopeful of some sort of agreement”, the bank added.

On currency markets the pound edged up following yesterday’s sell-off as it emerged that Johnson’s condition had worsened after he contracted the virus late last month and was in intensive care.

Key figures around 0810 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 2.0 per cent at 18,950.18 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 2.1 per cent at 24,253.29 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 2.1 per cent at 2,820.76 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 2.7 per cent at 5,732.11

Brent North Sea crude: UP 2.7 per cent at US$33.93 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 3.6 per cent at US$27.02 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at US$1.0875 from US$1.0794 at 2100 GMT

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.89 yen from 109.23 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.2330 from US$1.2231

Euro/pound: DOWN at 88.19 pence from 88.21 pence

New York – Dow: UP 7.7 per cent at 22,679.99 (close)

— AFP

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