Tuesday 21 January 2020

Asia stocks waver after data shows both hot and cold patches in the Chinese economy

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Shinichi Saoshiro

Asia stocks wavered on Tuesday after data showed both hot and cold patches in the Chinese economy, but losses were limited as investors turned their focus to corporate earnings from Syria.

Spreadbetters expected European stocks to open higher following overnight Wall Street gains, with Britain's FTSE rising 0.15pc, Germany's DAX gaining 0.3pc and France's CAC climbing 0.3pc.

The dollar was barely changed, with demand for safe-haven US Treasuries ebbing as risk appetite improved in parts of the broader market as investors took the view that Western-led strikes on Syria were a one-off intervention.

China's economy grew a welcome 6.8pc in the first quarter of 2018 from a year earlier, official data showed on Tuesday, unchanged from the previous quarter.

But separate data showed March industrial output missed expectations and first-quarter fixed-asset investment growth slowed, tempering equity market gains.

"There are two stories here, one backward looking and one forward looking," said Robert Subbaraman, chief economist for Asia excluding Japan at Nomura in Singapore. "Underneath the stable GDP growth is quite rapid rebalancing from industrial, investment and old economy sectors to consumption, services and new economy sectors like tech. This is encouraging."

"The more timely March data, however, point to nascent signs of a growth slowdown underway, led by these old economy sectors," Subbaraman said.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged down 0.15 percent. South Korea's KOSPI dipped 0.15 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was flat.

Shanghai's index shed 0.35pc and Japan's Nikkei was unchanged. Australian stocks gained 0.3pc with mining shares gaining on higher aluminium prices.

While Saturday's missile strikes were the biggest intervention by Western countries against Syria, investor risk appetite improved on speculation that the attacks would not lead to prolonged conflict.

"The markets had been bracing for a possible escalation in Syria following President Trump's earlier warnings. Military action, however, has been limited, bringing relief," said Kota Hirayama, senior emerging markets economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.

"That said, the underlying picture has not changed. Conflict continues in Syria and trade issues remain unresolved. Geopolitics will impact the markets again."

The Dow gained 0.87pc and the S&P 500 rose 0.8pc on Monday, with the biggest boosts from technology and healthcare sectors as investors were optimistic about the earnings season and appeared less worried about US-led missile attacks in Syria.

S&P 500 companies are expected to report an 18.6pc jump in first-quarter profit, on average, the biggest rise in seven years, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was little changed at 89.415 after losing 0.4pc overnight.

The euro was steady at $1.2382. The dollar was effectively flat at 107.055 yen.

The pound rose to $1.4355, its highest since June 2016, with focus on data that could cement expectations of a May interest rate increase from the Bank of England.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) stepped into the currency market again on Tuesday, buying HK$5.77bn ($735m) in Hong Kong dollars as the local currency repeatedly hit the lower end of its allowable trading band.

The 10-year US Treasury note yield was at 2.834pc after rising to 2.865 on Monday, its highest since March 22.

US crude oil futures rose 0.5pc to $66.57 a barrel after tumbling nearly 1.8pc overnight as concerns over tensions in the Middle East waned.

Brent crude climbed 0.3pc to $71.66 a barrel.

Aluminium hovered near seven-year highs reached the previous day after US sanctions on Russian producer Rusal stirred supply concerns.

Aluminium on the London Metal Exchange was at $2,386 per tonne after surging 5pc to $2,403 on Monday, its highest since September 2011.


Also in Business