Asia shares, dollar tense for inflation test

Pedestrians are reflected in a window displaying stock prices at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in Sydney, Australia, February 13, 2018. — Reuters pic
Pedestrians are reflected in a window displaying stock prices at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in Sydney, Australia, February 13, 2018. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, Feb 14 — Asian shares were set for a tense session this morning as investors await readings on US inflation that could fan fears of faster rate hikes and unleash another burst of global volatility.

The early inclination was to inch higher as E-Minis for the S&P 500 added 0.1 per cent and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.2 per cent.

Japan's Nikkei bounced 0.4 per cent to 21,327, after closing at a four-month low yesterday.

Dealers said there was a lot of focus on the 200-day moving average at 21,031 as a break there would ring bearish alarm bells.

Data showed Japan's economy grew a fraction slower than forecast last quarter but still managed the longest run of expansion since 1989.

On Wall Street, the Dow rose 0.16 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.26 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.45 per cent. Moves were tentative with investors clearly scarred by the return of volatility.

BofA Merrill Lynch's February Fund Manager Survey found a record one-month jump in the net per centage of investors taking out protection against a sharp fall in equity markets.

Funds were rotating into cash and out of equities, reducing their stock allocation to a net 43 per cent overweight, from 55 per cent, the largest one-month decline in two years.

Much now rested on what the US consumer price report showed for January, given it was the risk of accelerating inflation that triggered the global rout in the first place.

Headline consumer price inflation is expected to slow to 1.9 per cent a year, with core inflation at 1.7 per cent.

"The risk seems asymmetric to me," said Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and FX provider AxiTrader.

"Even a slightly higher number could set the cat among the pigeons given the late cycle stimulus the Trump Administration is pumping into the US economy."

Beware the twin deficits 

In currency markets, the yen remained firm after a sudden bout of buying from Japanese investors on Tuesday tipped stop-loss bids around 108.00 and took the yen to a five-month peak.

The dollar was last at 107.81 yen having found some support at 107.40/45.

The euro also fared well, rising to US$1.2352 and away from last week's trough at US$1.2204. It was aided by expectations German GDP data later today would show strong growth.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was down at 89.722 having shed 0.5 per cent overnight.

Analysts said investors were becoming nervous about the prospect of swelling US budget and trade deficits given the passage of huge tax cuts and spending plans.

"The re-emergence of the twin deficit should send shivers down the dollar's spine," said Mark McCormick, North American head of FX strategy at TD Securities.

He noted the IMF had estimated that a 1 per cent rise in the budget deficit led to a 0.6 per cent increase in the US current account deficit. That suggested the twin deficit could exceed 7 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade, all of which had to be funded by offshore money.

"Those numbers do not bode well for the greenback in the medium-term," concluded McCormick.

The drop in the dollar gave a fillip to commodities, with copper boasting a hefty 2.7 per cent jump.

Spot gold edged up to US$1,331.86 per ounce, leaving behind last week's one-month low of US$1,306.81.

Oil prices dipped after data showed a surprisingly large increase in US crude stockpiles.

The International Energy Agency yesterday said a rise in global oil production, led by the United States, is likely to outpace growth in demand this year.

US crude futures eased 22 cents in early trade to US$58.97 a barrel. Brent futures were yet to trade at US$62.72. — Reuters

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