A statue of a bull is displayed outside the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. File Picture: REUTERS/BOBBY YIP
A statue of a bull is displayed outside the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. File Picture: REUTERS/BOBBY YIP

Tokyo/Sydney — Asian shares were subdued on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech failed to give markets fresh trading catalysts, while the Australian dollar slumped after the central bank opened the door to a possible rate cut.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan barely moved with China and several other markets in the region still closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.3%, while e-mini futures for the S&P 500 edged higher. Australian shares advanced 0.5%, rising for a third session.

The Australian dollar slumped more than 1% to hit a one-week low of $0.7153 after Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) governor Philip Lowe said the central bank remained optimistic about the economic outlook but acknowledged rates might fall if unemployment were to rise and inflation stay too low.

“Over the past year, the next-move-is-up scenarios were more likely than the next-move-is-down scenarios. Today, the probabilities appear to be more evenly balanced,” he said in a speech in Sydney.

Chris Weston, Melbourne-based head of research at foreign exchange brokerage Pepperstone, said the comments show the RBA will react when it needs to though the bar to cutting rates remained quite high.

“I think he [Lowe] has opened the door to a degree. A lot of people in the market do see the fragility that's coming through in quite a lot of parts of the Australian economy," he said.

Trump vowed in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to build a border wall that is a source of a deep partisan divide and said Democratic attempts at “ridiculous partisan investigations” could damage US prosperity.

Some investors were hoping Trump would offer evidence of real, concrete progress in the US-China trade negotiations, said Nick Twidale, COO at Rakuten Securities in Sydney.

“The market had much more hopes that he would come up with something more concrete. We didn't really get it,” Twidale said.

“We got a lot of positive rhetoric — a lot of backslapping, or self-backslapping if you like. Because of that, we just had a really subdued reaction.”

Senior US and Chinese officials are poised to start another round of trade talks in Beijing next week to push for a deal on American intellectual property and avert a March 2 increase in US tariffs on Chinese goods, two people familiar with the plans said on Tuesday.

Dow Jones reported earlier that the talks next week would be led by US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, citing an unidentified senior administration official.

Wall Street had already racked up gains courtesy of strong corporate results from Europe and the US, including a blockbuster from Estée Lauder.

The Dow ended Tuesday up 0.68%, while the S&P 500 gained 0.47% and the Nasdaq 0.74%.

Treasury bonds also bounced, helped by data showing a surprisingly soft US service sector index of 56.7, with new orders falling to a one-year low.

A lengthy pause

The Federal Reserve should leave interest rates where they are until the US economic outlook is clearer, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said on Tuesday, a process that could take several more months.

The dollar held up well thanks in part to a retreat in sterling, which hit two-week lows at $1.2923 in early trade after poor survey data and uncertainty about Brexit talks pushed it below a key market level.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was firm at 96.104 and well above last week's low of 95.162. It fell 0.1% on the yen to ¥109.84.

The euro slipped to $1.1397 after a survey showed on Tuesday that euro zone businesses expanded at their slowest pace since mid-2013 at the start of the year.

In commodity markets, the Wall Street Journal reported Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies were proposing a formal partnership with a 10-nation group led by Russia to try to manage the global oil market, an alliance that could transform the cartel.

US crude futures edged down 1 cent to $53.65, while Brent was off 2c at $61.96.

Spot gold was a shade higher at $1,315.00/oz, about 0.9% short of its recent peak at $1,326.30.

Reuters