Asian markets extend rally amid falling COVID-19 cases; oil prices surge on hopes of rising demand


Tokyo was the standout performer, with the Nikkei 225 breaking through 30,000 points for the first time in 31 years

Representational image. Reuters

Hong Kong: Asian markets rallied again Monday, extending a global advance after another record on Wall Street as traders were cheered by the prospect of a huge new US stimulus as well as further falls in coronavirus infection and death rates.

Tokyo was the standout performer, with the Nikkei 225 breaking through 30,000 points for the first time in 31 years as data showed Japan’s economy performed better than expected at the end of last year.

Equities across the planet have been surging for months as vaccination programmes kick into gear and fewer people come down with the virus, fuelling hopes that economically painful containment measures can begin to be lifted.

The optimism has pushed oil prices to highs not seen since last January.

The end of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial at the weekend also allows US lawmakers to concentrate on pushing through President Joe Biden’s vast rescue package.

There had been an expectation that the $1.9 trillion proposal could be watered down as Republicans and some Democrats pushed back against its size, but there is an increasing belief that the final figure could be closer to the president’s plan.

However, while the broad consensus is for the world economy to soar this year, there is a growing concern that the Biden spending splurge could exacerbate an expected jump in inflation.

That could force central banks to tighten their ultra-loose monetary policies, which have been a key driver of markets’ recovery.

And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called on her Group of Seven counterparts to join the United States in opening the taps, saying in her first meeting that “the time to go big is now”.

US bazookas

Axi strategist Stephen Innes said: “Investors are beginning to revel again in the US’s fiscal and monetary bazookas that show no abating signs.

“With accelerated vaccine rollouts globally and a sharp reduction in COVID-19 infections in the US that seems to have occurred much faster than any prior waves, the most likely scenario is still for a steep economic recovery starting in spring or early summer with heightened overheating risks.”

He said a rise in US Treasury yields showed expectations for higher inflation down the line, which “at some point… will become a temporary problem for stocks”.

But Innes added that “with both monetary and fiscal policy likely going ahead full bore pedal to the metal, it’s hard to see a sustained sell-off in that environment”.

And Jeffrey Halley at OANDA said: “The world’s inflation hunters are on high alert… although if you strip the United States out of the equation, inflation is as elusive as ever in Europe, and Japan, and China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and even Indonesia.”

The optimistic mood on trading floors helped push all three main indexes on Wall Street to new records last week, and Asia took up the baton with gusto on Monday.

Tokyo surged nearly two percent to crack 30,000 for the first time since 1990, helped by data showing the Japanese economy contracted less than feared last year.

Seoul, Mumbai and Bangkok climbed more than one percent, while Sydney, Singapore and Jakarta were also in the green.

However, Wellington fell following news that two coronavirus infections that have prompted a snap lockdown of Auckland were the country’s first cases of the highly contagious strain first detected in Britain.

Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei were closed for holidays.

Oil prices continued to push higher, with WTI topping $60 a barrel for the first time since last January on demand hopes and as a severe cold snap in Texas raised concerns that output in the key producer state will be curtailed.

And bitcoin retreated after hitting a new record of $49,317 in reaction to news that MasterCard and US bank BNY Mellon had moved to make it easier for people to use the cryptocurrency. It was at $46,885 on Monday.

Key figures around 0710 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.9 percent to 30,084.15 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: Closed for a holiday

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: Closed for a holiday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2138 from $1.2130 at 2200 GMT Friday

Dollar/yen: UP at 105.06 yen from 104.91 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3900 from $1.3845

Euro/pound: DOWN at 87.33 pence from 87.50 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.3 percent at $60.85 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.9 percent at $63.63 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 31,458.40 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.9 percent at 6,589.79 (close)

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