Stocks push higher on vaccine hopes but gains lose steam

US markets fell after second weekly rise in jobless claims raised concerns about strength of economic recovery.

Japanese stocks were among the region's top gainers on Thursday [File: Akio Kon/Bloomberg]
Japanese stocks were among the region's top gainers on Thursday [File: Akio Kon/Bloomberg]

Asian shares extended this month’s stellar gains as market euphoria over COVID-19 vaccines and expectations that US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration would deliver more economic stimulus overrode weak US economic data.

But Thursday’s gains were more modest than in recent days.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.39 percent while Japan’s Nikkei gained 0.91 percent.

European stock futures eked out gains of 0.30 percent before the start of cash equity trading.

MSCI’s broadest gauge of the world’s shares covering 49 markets added 0.15 percent, bringing gains so far this month to 12.8 percent, on course for a record monthly increase.

The rally started after Democrat Biden’s United States election victory earlier this month raised hopes for more government spending to support the pandemic-hit economy and for more policy predictability after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“Reduced policy uncertainties are helping markets. It will be easier for companies to make capital expenditures,” said Arihiro Nagata, general manager of global investment at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

“It’s true that stock prices are quite expensive but markets are finding fewer and fewer reasons to sell them. In this environment, you can’t make profits by selling. The only question to ask is what assets you should buy.”

MSCI All Country World Index with its 50- and 200-day moving averages [Bloomberg]
But some analysts cautioned that many questions about the timing of the rollout of recently announced COVID-19 vaccines, and how they may help the global economy.

“While the release of vaccine results is promising, we do not know yet when this pandemic will be completely over and that is what investors will continue to struggle with,” Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at research firm FXTM, said in a note sent to Al Jazeera.

US pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca and others in China and Russia have announced highly encouraging results in trials for their coronavirus vaccine candidates in recent weeks. These have raised hopes among investors that consumer-related industries such as travel, retail and restaurants will be able to return to full capacity.

US S&P 500 futures rose 0.2 percent in Thursday’s Asian trade while Nasdaq futures rallied 0.4 percent.

On Wall Street on Wednesday, the S&P 500 index shed 0.16 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average 0.58 percent, though the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite increased 0.47 percent.

US jobs concerns

Traders attributed the brief softness in S&P 500 and the Dow Jones to weak US economic data.

Figures from the US Department of Labor’s weekly jobless claims suggested that an explosion in new COVID-19 infections and business restrictions were boosting layoffs and undermining a recovery.

Walt Disney Co said late on Thursday it plans to lay off 32,000 workers, primarily at its theme parks, an increase from the 28,000 it announced in September as the company struggles with limited customers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With more than 20 million people on jobless benefits, investors bet the US Federal Reserve will have no choice but to maintain its ultra-easy policy to support the pandemic-stricken economy.

Minutes from the Fed’s last policy meeting showed policymakers consider giving markets a better steer on how long they will continue to buy bonds to support an economy under siege from new coronavirus infections.

“It’s somewhat out of character that they mention taking this step ‘fairly soon’ when they haven’t begun a discussion of this with the public,” wrote Michael Feroli, chief US economist at JP Morgan in New York.

In commodities, oil prices rose for a fifth day as a surprise drop in US crude inventories added to the positive mood stemming from hopes of demand recovery.

US crude rose 0.46 percent to $46.06 per barrel and Brent gained 0.51 percent to $48.86.

In the currency market, the US dollar stayed under pressure as riskier currencies benefitted from the increased optimism.

The dollar index against a basket of major currencies dipped 0.07 percent to 91.919, hitting its lowest levels in almost three months.

The euro held firm at $1.1929 while the British pound also stood near a three-month high at $1.3389.

The yen was little moved at 104.34 yen to the dollar.

Market trade was slow as US financial markets will be closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday. US bonds and stocks will trade on a partial schedule on Friday.

Bitcoin was down 4 percent to $17,909, partially recovering from a nearly 9-percent plunge on Thursday after nearing a three-year high the previous day. Still, the cryptocurrency sits on gains of about 30 percent so far this month.

Source : Al Jazeera and News agencies

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