Friday 02.50 GMT. Nervousness ahead of next week’s US presidential election kept most major stock markets across Asia under pressure, while regional currencies retreated as the US dollar enjoyed some respite from recent declines.
With the handful of central bank meetings this week delivering no policy surprises, investors have remained sensitive to news surrounding next Tuesday’s US vote. Polls have shown that Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump has narrowed, contributing to an eight-session losing streak for the S&P 500 — its longest since October 2008 — and a bout of dollar weakness.
Investors have also stuck to the sidelines ahead of the always-influential US non-farm payrolls report, due later on Friday. Economists on average forecast the US economy added 173,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate ticked down one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.9 per cent.
“Non-farm payrolls will be watched closely given the Fed is looking for ‘some further evidence’ of progress to its dual mandate,” said analysts at ANZ Banking Group. “Given recent comments from Fed officials, a job gain north of 100,000 should be satisfactory.”
The Federal Reserve kept interest rates on hold this week but kept the door open to a rate rise in December, a move that is now 78 per cent priced in by the market.
The dollar index was 0.1 per cent higher on Friday at 97.231, following a three-day losing streak, but sentiment this week has been more dependent on US election prospects than the Fed.
Gold, which is typically sensitive to monetary policy expectations, was down 0.2 per cent at $1,300.53 an ounce in Asia, on pace for its first decline in seven sessions.
The UK pound edged up 0.1 per cent to $1.2473, on track for a sixth straight day of gains. Sterling jumped 1.3 per cent on Thursday after the High Court ruled the government must seek parliamentary approval for triggering Article 50, the official trigger for Britain to commence negotiations to leave the EU, and after the Bank of England kept interest rates on hold.
Analysts at ABN Amro said the BoE’s move toward a neutral bias, by dropping its earlier intention to cut interest rates, caught currency markets off guard and aided the pound.
“In the near-term we expect the recovery in sterling to continue as speculators will likely close part of their short sterling positions … We think the BoE will keep its policy rate on hold going forward,” they said.
That spurred gains for a number of Asia’s UK-exposed stocks. Cheung Kong Infrastructure rose 2.7 per cent while Power Assets Holdings gained 1.1 per cent. The two Hong Kong-listed companies, controlled by billionaire Li Ka-shing, generate a substantial portion of their earnings in the UK. The Australia-listed shares of British lender CYBG jumped 6.4 per cent, while fund manager Henderson Group gained 1.7 per cent.
However, broader benchmarks failed to benefit much, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng up just 0.1 per cent, and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shedding 0.8 per cent as lower oil prices weighed on the energy sector.
Japan’s Topix benchmark was down 1.7 per cent, while the Nikkei 225 fell 1.4 per cent as markets reopened after a public holiday on Thursday.
China’s Shanghai Composite was up 0.3 per cent and the technology-focused Shenzhen Composite added 0.2 per cent.
The Australian dollar was down 0.1 per cent at $0.7675, unable to hold gains following the release of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s regular Statement on Monetary Policy and better-than-expected retail sales data that chipped away at the case for cutting interest rates further.
Although the Reserve Bank of Australia, in its regular statement on monetary policy, trimmed its medium-term forecast for gross domestic product for the year ending June 2018, it kept its other forecasts for growth and inflation intact. Sally Auld at JPMorgan said the statement was consistent with interest rates being on hold into early 2017.
“The central bank is clearly exhibiting a little more comfort with the risk bias to inflation, and has acknowledged fading downside risks to near term growth in China, as well as the prospect of better incomes growth thanks to the terms of trade bounce,” she said.
Oil markets were slightly higher after five days of declines as markets remained sceptical about producers’ ability to reach an agreement over output cuts, and in the wake of data on Wednesday showing US crude oil inventories rose by the most on record in the previous week.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 0.3 per cent at $46.47 a barrel while West Texas Intermediate gained the same amount, to $44.77.
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