Stocks get shot in the arm as COVID-19 vaccines start roll-out

Japanese stocks jump after new economic data, South Korean index rises to all-time high after Wall Street’s gains.

Ninety-year-old Margaret Keenan became the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, raising hopes among investors that governments will soon be able to fully open up their economies [Jacob King/Pool via AP]

Asian shares rose to a record high and United States stock futures gained on Wednesday as investors tracked positive news on COVID-19 vaccines and ongoing efforts to launch more fiscal stimulus.

Investors are hopeful that new coronavirus vaccines now being administered to the most vulnerable will begin to allow governments to eventually open up their economies and revitalise growth.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.51 percent. At one point the index reached 646.10, an all-time peak.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe also hit a record high.

Australian shares gained 0.69 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei rose 1.01 percent to approach a twenty-nine-and-a-half-year high. Investor sentiment got an added boost after Japanese data pointed to a rebound in capital expenditure. Machinery orders in Japan jumped at the fastest pace in more than 10 years, adding to signs that the global economy is continuing to recover from the pandemic.

“Across this year, non-residential investment is likely to have fallen by about 6 percent. But we expect business investment to get back to pre-virus levels by early 2022 – much faster than the seven years it took after the global financial crisis,” Tom Learmouth, Japan economist at research firm Capital Economics, said in a note sent to Al Jazeera.

Shares in China rose 0.15 percent. South Korean stocks also jumped by 1.26 percent to trade at near a record high.

Wall Street winds higher

US S&P 500 e-mini stock futures rose 0.11 percent in Asian trade after shares on Wall Street notched new record highs on Tuesday, boosted by positive vaccine news and seeming progress on US stimulus talks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.35 percent on Tuesday, the S&P 500 gained 0.28 percent and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.5 percent.

Nasdaq 100 daily percentage change chart [Bloomberg]

US policymakers continued to negotiate over additional stimulus to help offset the economic effect of the pandemic while pursuing a stopgap government funding bill.

Leaders in both parties remain adamant a deal must be struck but are still working through sticking points, including aid to state and local governments and business liability protections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin presented a new $916bn COVID-19 relief proposal to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who hailed progress in the negotiations although she deemed parts of the plan as “unacceptable”.

Vaccine victory?

The steady march of positive news on COVID-19 vaccines helped lift investor spirits.

The UK on Tuesday became the first Western nation to begin a wide vaccination campaign and Johnson & Johnson reported it could obtain late-stage trial results for a single-dose vaccine in January, earlier than expected.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc cleared another hurdle when the US health regulator released documents flagging no new safety or efficacy concerns.

The British pound was little changed before make-or-break talks on a trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The looming prospect of a “no-deal” Brexit weighed on sentiment for sterling, which last traded at $1.3369 and at 90.61 pence per euro.

“While hopes are still alive that a fresh stimulus package for the United States will be agreed on soon, it is looking less likely a Brexit deal will be made with negotiators from both sides acknowledging a deal may not be achieved,” analysts at ANZ Bank wrote in a research memo.

“The next 24 hours will be critical and is likely to cause market volatility depending on what is or isn’t agreed.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive European Commission, for dinner in Brussels on Wednesday to try and close gaps their negotiators have struggled with for months.

Against a basket of currencies the dollar sat at 90.923, which is about half a percent above a two-and-a-half-year low it hit on Friday as short-sellers piled in.

Benchmark US 10-year Treasury bond yields edged up to 0.9344 percent in Asia on Wednesday. Some dealers say expectations for more fiscal spending could push yields up more in the future. Bond yields rise as their prices fall, indicating investors are more willing to sell such low-risk assets in favour of riskier ones such as stocks when economic prospects brighten.

In energy markets, Brent crude futures fell 0.18 percent to $48.75 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate futures fell 0.22 percent to $45.50 following a rise in US crude inventories.

The spot gold price fell from a two-week high to $1,868.21 per ounce as the start of vaccine treatment reduced demand for the precious metal, usually seen as a safe haven.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies