Asian stocks fall as Covid infections rise
US Treasury yields and Chinese blue-chips slide as investors mull economic impact of coronavirus
Shanghai/Boston — Stocks in Asia fell on Friday, following on from sell-offs in the US and Europe as investors feared the economic impact of an accelerating rise in coronavirus infections.
The US has reported fresh daily records for new Covid-19 case hospitalisations this week, prompting cities and states, including Chicago, Detroit and California, to reimpose public health restrictions.
European officials have also warned against complacency and said measures to control infections must continue despite hopes that vaccines under development could help to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said on Thursday during a discussion with other central bankers that progress in developing a coronavirus vaccine was welcome news but that near-term economic risks remain as infections accelerate, underscoring the likely need for additional government stimulus.
Against that grim backdrop, MSCI’s broadest index of Asian shares outside Japan dipped 0.25% in early trade as shares across the region stumbled.
Chinese blue-chips led losses, falling 1.21%. Australian shares lost 0.47%, Seoul’s Kospi was down 0.16% and the Hang Seng was 0.55% lower. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.95%.
Some investors saw a buying opportunity in the slump.
“My view is this is the dark just before dawn,” said Michael Frazis, portfolio manager at Frazis Capital Partners in Sydney.
“You've got the second wave of coronavirus, new sets of shutdowns, clear problems around the world, travel dropping off again ... but at the same time, we have the strongest possible evidence that we do have a vaccine and many people will be vaccinated over the next few months.”
“We think this is all actually very positive and it's actually a good time to be investing in markets,” he said.
Frazis said many risks nevertheless remained for short-term traders amid ongoing uncertainty over issues such as the US stimulus response.
On Thursday, top Democrats in the US Congress urged renewed negotiations over a multitrillion-dollar coronavirus aid proposal, but the top Republican immediately rejected their approach as too expensive, continuing a months-long impasse.
Wall Street dropped on Thursday in a broad sell-off.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.08%, pulled lower by industrial and financial companies sensitive to economic growth. The S&P 500 lost 1.00% and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.65%.
US Treasury yields also sank on Thursday, weighed down by the persistent rise in coronavirus cases and data showing inflation remained benign in the world’s largest economy. The US yield curve, viewed in part as a gauge of risk appetite, also flattened.
On Friday, US yields continued to tick lower, with benchmark 10-year Treasury notes yielding 0.8766%, compared with a Thursday close of 0.886%.
“Bond yields, which had been flirting with the 1.0% level in terms of the US 10Y Treasury, have ... snapped back sharply in terms of yield,” Rob Carnell, Asia Pacific head of research at ING said in a note.
“That move most likely got a further nudge from the softer-than-expected US inflation data for October which were released yesterday, and which tally with a weaker economic reality.”
Rising risk aversion lifted the safe-haven yen, with the dollar dropping 0.18% against the Japanese currency to 104.93. The euro was flat in Asian morning trade and the dollar index ticked 0.2% higher to 92.987.
An unexpected rise in US crude stockpiles worsened virus-linked economic fears in commodity markets, pushing US crude 1.63% lower to $40.45 per barrel.
Global benchmark Brent crude dropped 1.45% to $42.90 per barrel.
Spot gold gained 0.17% to $1,878.97/oz.
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