Asian shares stepped ahead cautiously on Thursday while oil rebounded from a steep sell-off, though rising US interest rates and escalating trade tensions kept financial markets on edge amid signs of slackening global growth.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan tacked on 0.2 per cent and has so far managed to hold up in November after three straight monthly declines. For the year, it is on track for its worst annual performance since 2011, in part due to anxiety over a weakening outlook for corporate profits and the heated Sino-US trade war.
Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.7 per cent while Australian shares advanced 0.6 per cent.
Overnight in Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 stock index ended higher but near session lows while the Dow gave up its gains to end flat ahead of the US Thanksgiving holiday in a sign of lingering bearishness.
“Markets experienced a better night last night, but it is fair to say that sentiment remains fragile,” ANZ analysts said in a note to clients.
“There seems a greater appreciation that with the impact of US fiscal stimulus waning, the US economy could slow like other major economies have.”
The US unemployment rate is at a 49-year low and the economy is expanding at a 3.5 per cent annual rate, although many economists now believe a ballooning US federal budget deficit and trade protectionism could hurt growth by 2020.
“That leaves the market less forgiving of poor news whether that is on the trade front or in credit markets. The bottom line, expect this higher volatility picture to persist unless global growth can stage a turnaround,” ANZ analysts said.
The synchronized global expansion that began roughly two years ago has now plateaued, and fresh signs are emerging of a weaker outlook. Global trade volumes are still increasing although at a slower pace.
Moreover, leading economic indicators monitored by the OECD have weakened since the start of the year and point to slower expansion ahead for the United Kingdom and the euro area as a whole.
The Federal Reserve has stayed on its tightening path after ending seven years of near-zero interest rates in December 2015 that took the Fed funds rate to the current 2.00 to 2.25 per cent. Investors expect the Fed to go again in December.
In response to the tightening, the US dollar has outperformed most of its peers this year with its index against a basket of major currencies up almost 5 per cent. In comparison the Japanese yen is flat so far in 2018.
Marios Hadjikyriacos, analyst at broking firm XM.Com, said the greenback is currently an “all weather currency.”
“It can shine both in risk-off sessions given its status as the world’s reserve asset, and on risk-on days as wide yield differentials brighten its carry appeal,” he said.
Hadjikyriacos expects the dollar to end the year on a high note.
“The dollar seems more attractive from a risk-reward perspective as the bar to price out even more hikes – and hence weaken the currency – is probably quite high; it may require concrete evidence of a US slowdown.”
The dollar index was last flat at 96.697. The yen was barely changed at 113.07 following two straight sessions of losses.
Elsewhere, the euro rose on hopes that the Italian budget dispute would be resolved even as the European Commission took its first step toward disciplining Italy over its deficit. It was last at $1.1386.
Oil jumped after US government data showed strong demand for gasoline and diesel, though concerns over rising crude supply remained.
US crude futures edged up 10 cents to $54.73 after hitting a one-year low of $52.77 on Tuesday. Brent opened stronger at $63.60, up 12 cents from the last close and well off Tuesday’s trough of $61.71.
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