Asia stocks sag after oil slides, dollar steady before Fed speech

Published: July 17, 2018 09:53:40 | Updated: July 20, 2018 11:06:30

People walk past an electronic board showing Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, March 23, 2018. Reuters/Files

Asian stocks sagged on Tuesday, weighed by a sharp decline in crude oil prices as Libyan ports reopened, while the dollar steadied ahead of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s first congressional testimony.

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow edged up 0.2 per cent but the S&P 500 lost 0.1 per cent as energy shares were hit by the drop in oil that offset a jump in financials.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.5 per cent lower following two sessions of gains.

Chinese shares extended losses after dropping the previous day on soft economic data. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.7 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 0.9 per cent.

Australian stocks fell 0.4 per cent and South Korea’s KOSPI lost 0.2 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei bucked the trend and rose 0.5 per cent.

“Crude has been rising steadily so some kind of adjustment was due. From this context the impact on the broader economy, inflation and therefore the stock markets should be limited,” said Soichiro Monji, senior economist at Daiwa SB Investments in Tokyo.

Crude prices slumped more than 4 percent on Monday, with Brent futures reaching a three-month low of $71.52 a barrel, as Libyan ports reopened and traders eyed potential supply increases by Russia and other producers.

Concerns over China’s second-quarter economic growth also weighed on oil prices. The country’s economy expanded at a slower pace as Beijing’s efforts to contain debt hurt activity, while June factory output growth weakened to a two-year low.

But Brent has gained about 7.5 per cent in 2018, during which it poked above $80.00 a barrel in May to a 3-1/2-year high.

“The stock markets have been quite steady recently, and this shows that investors are starting to look beyond the U.S. midterm elections, which by then President (Donald) Trump’s posturing is expected to have peaked out,” Monji at Daiwa SB Investments said.

In currencies, the dollar index inched up 0.1 per cent against a basket of six major currencies to 94.587.

The index shed 0.25 per cent on Monday, nudging away from a two-week high of 95.241 scaled on Friday ahead of Fed Chairman Powell’s first congressional testimony.

Powell will testify on the economy and monetary policy before the US Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, followed by testimony on Wednesday to the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee.

Powell is likely to reiterate the Fed’s stance towards gradual monetary policy tightening, and market focus will be on his views on recent trade tensions.

“In short, we expect the chairman to signal optimism on growth and inflation, consistent with continued ‘gradual’ tightening,” wrote Jim O’Sullivan, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.

“He will undoubtedly acknowledge some downside risks associated with the administration’s trade warmongering, but he will likely try to avoid sounding critical of the administration.”

The euro dipped 0.05 per cent to $1.1703 after adding 0.25 per cent overnight.

The dollar pared the previous day’s losses and gained 0.2 per cent to 112.48 yen, crawling back towards a six-month peak of 112.80 touched last week.

The Australian dollar dipped 0.2 per cent to $0.7405.

Treasury yields remained buoyant after rising overnight when strong US domestic retail sales supported the view of solid economic growth in the second quarter, Reuters reported.

The two-year Treasury yield was at 2.598 per cent and in reach of a decade-high of 2.611 per cent scaled on Monday.

Brent crude futures were 0.65 per cent higher at $72.32 a barrel after the previous day’s steep fall. US crude bounced 0.05 per cent to $68.10 a barrel after shedding 4.1 per cent on Monday.

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