Asia stocks ease from highs, bonds count on Fed support

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares drifted off all-time highs on Thursday as widening COVID-19 restrictions in the United states weighed on Wall Street, while bonds were underpinned by speculation the Federal Reserve would have to respond with yet more easing.

FILE PHOTO: A board shows stock information at a brokerage office in Beijing, China January 2, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Japan also reported record news cases as Tokyo raised its pandemic alert to the highest level, shoving the Nikkei .N225 down 0.8% and away from a 29-year closing top.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS fell 0.6%, off their historic high. Chinese blue chips .CSI300 added 0.4% as President Xi Jinping vowed to cut tariffs and expand imports of high-quality goods and services.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 steadied after Wall Street took a late dip on Wednesday. The Dow .DJI ended down 1.16%, while the S&P 500 .SPX lost 1.16% and the Nasdaq .IXIC 0.82%.

Pfizer Inc PFE.N shares had gained after the drugmaker said its COVID-19 vaccine was 95% effective and it would apply for emergency U.S. authorization within days.

Pfizer’s announcement came on the heels of a similar report from Moderna Inc MRNA.O.

Yet, the U.S. death toll still neared a world record of a quarter million as government officials in dozens of states weighed or implemented shutdown measures.

New York closed its schools on Wednesday, while Minnesota ordered bars and restaurants to cease in-door dining.

“The vaccines news are a positive medium-term impulse for the global economic outlook and investors are trying to weigh that against the prospect of an imminent stalling of the European and U.S. recovery amid the prospect of extensions of current lockdown measures,” said Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB.

FORCING THE FED

The drag from new U.S. restrictions was only amplified by the total lack of progress on a fiscal stimulus bill, fuelling speculation the Federal Reserve would have to expand its asset-buying campaign at a December policy meeting.

Two top Fed officials on Wednesday held out the option of doing more.

The chance of further easing has helped nudge 10-year Treasury yields down to 0.85% US10YT=RR and away from an eight-month top of 0.975% touched last week. [US/]

It has also weighed on the dollar, which slipped for five sessions in a row before steadying a little on Thursday. Against a basket of currencies it was last at 92.477 =USD, still close to recent lows of 92.129.

The dollar has likewise been in a slow decline against the Japanese yen to reach 103.72 JPY= and was approaching the recent eight-month trough at 103.16.

The euro has had pandemic problems of its own as lockdowns spread across the continent, keeping it capped at $1.1844 EUR= and short of the recent peak of $1.1919.

Sterling dipped to $1.3230 GBP=D3 as Brexit talks dragged on. The Times reported Europe’s leaders would demand the European Commission publish no-deal plans as the deadline neared.

Bitcoin BTC=BTSP, sometimes regarded as a safe haven or at least a hedge against inflation, rose to more than $18,000 for the first time in nearly three years. It last stood at $17,808.

All the talk of policy easing put a floor under gold prices, leaving the metal steady at $1,868 an ounce XAU=.

Oil prices eased as virus restrictions hit fuel demand across Europe and the U.S. [O/R]

U.S. crude CLc1 fell 35 cents to $41.47 a barrel, while Brent crude LCOc1 futures lost 23 cents to $44.11.

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