Asian stocks set for soft start, dollar mostly steady

Pedestrians walk in front of a quotation board displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo. — AFP pic
Pedestrians walk in front of a quotation board displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo. — AFP pic

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NEW YORK, Jan 26 ― Asian stocks came under pressure today as worries about US stimulus and surging coronavirus infections led to a mixed Wall Street session, while the dollar consolidated overnight gains.

The choppy trade reflected concerns about new strains of the deadly virus, along with uncertainty about the US$1.9 trillion (RM7.7 trillion) US fiscal stimulus plan that has hit opposition from Republicans in Congress.

Those factors tempered earlier optimism stoked by the roll-out of vaccines and anticipation that new US stimulus would give the world economy a much-needed fiscal shot in the arm.

Jarrod Kerr, chief economist at Kiwibank in Wellington, New Zealand said equities also were now taking a breather after a strong bull run last week, but noted sentiment was still upbeat.

“Risk appetite has clearly improved,” Kerr said. “Central banks and governments need to keep their foot on the accelerator.”

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 were flat early in the Asian day. Japan's Nikkei opened down 0.4 per cent and New Zealand's was 0.5 per cent lower. The Australian dollar rose 0.04 per cent versus the greenback at US$0.771. Australian stock markets were closed for a national public holiday.

Fourth-quarter GDP data for the United States, Germany and France due out this week may cool sentiment. US policymakers are expected to keep the monetary spigot open when the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee meets today and tomorrow.

Wall Street stocks were mixed yesterday with the Nasdaq index adding 0.69 per cent and hitting a record high on hopes of bumper earnings later this week from mega-cap technology companies. The S&P 500 gained 0.36 per cent, however, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index slipped 0.12 per cent.

Earlier, European shares closed at two-week lows as a slump in German business morale underscored the damage from tighter Covid-19 restrictions.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index reversed early gains and finished 0.8 per cent lower. The German DAX fell 1.7 per cent, France CAC 40 was down 1.6 per cent and the UK's FTSE 100 declined 0.8 per cent.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 nations, rose 0.2 per cent.

All eyes were on Washington as US lawmakers agreed that getting Covid-19 vaccines to Americans should be a priority even as they locked horns over the size of the pandemic relief package.

Financial markets have been eyeing a massive package, though disagreements have meant months of indecision in a country suffering more than 175,000 Covid-19 cases a day with millions out of work.

“The immediate question now is when stimulus aid will be approved and how much?” asked Christopher Grisanti, chief equity strategist at MAI Capital Management.

The dollar advanced to a near one-week high against a basket of currencies, as volatility in stock markets around the globe sapped investors' appetite for riskier currencies.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback versus a basket of six currencies, rose 0.12 points or 0.1 per cent, to 90.358. The euro was last down 0.3 per cent at US$1.2140. ― Reuters

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