Asian shares gain after solid U.S. data, focus on virus


Asian stocks edged up on Thursday, a day after U.S. S&P 500 hit a record peak following encouraging economic data, while investors keep a wary eye on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS gained 0.39% while Japan’s Nikkei .N225 rose 1.63%.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 1.13% to a record close of 3,334.69 while the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.43% to 9,508.68, also a record high.

The ADP National Employment Report showed private payrolls jumped 291,000 jobs in January, the most since May 2015, while a separate report showed U.S. services sector activity picked up last month. Both indicators suggest the economy could continue to grow moderately this year even as consumer spending slows.

Traders also cited unconfirmed reports of a possible vaccine breakthrough for the coronavirus as a trigger for Wednesday’s stock rally, although they also said such a catalyst was also likely to be an excuse for short-covering.

The World Health Organization played down media reports on Wednesday of “breakthrough” drugs being discovered to treat people infected with the new coronavirus.

Another 73 people on the Chinese mainland died on Wednesday from the virus, the highest daily increase so far, bringing the total death toll to 563, the country’s health authority said on Thursday.

Statistics from China indicate that about 2% of people infected with the new virus have died, suggesting it may be deadlier than seasonal flu but less deadly than SARS.

“The coronavirus is continuing to spread so we need to remain cautious. But markets now appear to think that there will be a quick economic recovery after a short-term slump,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui DS Asset Management.

The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield rose back to 1.653% US10YT=RR from a five-month low of 1.503% set last Friday.

In the currency market, the safe-haven Swiss franc and the yen retreated.

The Swiss franc CHF=EBS eased to 0.9738 franc per dollar, having lost 0.4% on Wednesday.

The yen stepped back to 109.85 yen JPY=, compared with a three-week high of 108.305 hit on Friday.

The euro stood at $1.0998 EUR=, having shed 0.4% in the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 gained 0.73% to $51.12 per barrel, extending its rebound from a 13-month low of $49.31 touched on Tuesday.

Still it is down about 16% so far this year.


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