Asia stocks gain as soft data lift stimulus hopes


TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks edged higher on Monday amid a cautious mood as investors pinned their hopes on expected global stimulus to support slowing growth in the world’s major economies.

A man walks past in front of a stock quotation board showing the price of the SoftBank Corp. and Nikkei share average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Global equity markets also received a lift after the Chinese central bank’s move on Friday to cut how much cash banks must hold in reserve, releasing liquidity to shore up an economy hit by the Sino-U.S. trade conflict.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS added 0.2%. The Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC was up 0.6%.

South Korea’s KOSPI .KS11 rose 0.6% and Japan’s Nikkei .N225 advanced 0.5%.

Tracking the cautious optimism in Asia, the pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures STXEc1 was up 0.1%, German DAX futures FDXc1 added 0.25% and Britain’s FTSE futures FFIc1 gained 0.3% in early European trade.

Underlining the need for more stimulus, data on Sunday showed China’s exports unexpectedly fell in August as shipments to the United States plummeted.

Risk sentiment was also fortified as Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said on Friday that the central bank would continue to act “as appropriate” to sustain economic expansion in the world’s biggest economy.

Broader stock market gains were tempered by lackluster economic data – U.S. job growth slowed more than expected in August – although even this was seen as a positive factor for equities if it prompted more policy support measures.

“Equities usually respond negatively to soft data. But the fact that the U.S. jobs report shows the market is banking on stimulus, expecting the Fed to respond to economic weakness with rate cuts,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management.

Buoying market confidence on Monday were expectations that the European Central Bank would cut interest rates on Thursday.

“The equity markets will receive a further lift and consolidate their recent gains if they can confirm the ECB’s dovish stance,” Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management said.

The dollar was capped as U.S. yields came off two-week highs after Friday’s soft U.S. jobs report also raised expectations for a Fed rate cut.

The greenback traded at 106.890 yen JPY=, off the one-month peak of 107.235 scaled late last week.

The euro was steady at $1.1027 EUR=, weighed down ahead of Thursday’s ECB policy decision and near a 28-month low of $1.0926 set last week.

The Australian dollar AUD=D4, sensitive to shifts in broader risk appetite, hovered near a five-week peak of $0.6862 set on Friday.

The pound was little changed at $1.2277 GBP=D3. Sterling has bounced from a three-year low set a week ago as the threat of Britain leaving the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31 was seen to diminish.

But political uncertainty remains, preventing the pound from regaining further ground. British lawmakers will on Monday vote on whether to hold an early election.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield US10YT=RR had bounced to a two-week high of 1.6080% on Friday as risk aversion which engulfed global markets at the start of last week eased. But it was last at 1.5650% and creeping back toward to a three-year low of 1.4290% set on Sept. 3.

U.S. bonds continue to attract demand despite their extremely low yields. Data on Monday showed Japanese investors in July were largest net buyers of U.S. bonds in three years, with the appeal of European bonds diminishing due to their negative yields.

(Graphic: Benchmark yields – here)

“The attraction of U.S. bonds has diminished since the start of the year. But U.S. bonds still remain the highest yielding within industrialized economies,” said Kenta Inoue, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

Brent crude oil futures LCOc1 gained 1% to $62.14 per barrel after Saudi Arabia signaled that production cuts will continue under a new energy minister.

Editing by Sam Holmes and Gerry Doyle

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