Asian stocks advance after stimulus talks lift Wall Street

AP – Shares rose in Asia yesterday after revived hopes for more aid for the United States (US) economy broke a four-day losing streak on Wall Street.

Japan reported weaker than expected export data for November, despite a recovery in trade with China, its biggest market.

Overnight, the S&P 500 gained 1.3 per cent as investors grew hopeful that Washington can surmount its partisan divide to deliver more aid to the struggling economy. Technology companies powered much of the rally, which helped push the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite to an all-time high. An index of small-company stocks also set a record high.

Optimism over the economic outlook is rising as approval for a second COVID-19 vaccine may be imminent.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.3 per cent to 26,757.40 despite the release of data showing exports fell four per cent in November, while imports dropped 11 per cent from a year earlier. Exports of vehicles, semiconductors and other manufactured items showed the biggest declines.

However, a monthly survey of manufacturers showed conditions improving, with the purchasing managers index at preliminary reading of 49.7 on a scale up to 100 where 50 markets the cut off for expansion. It was a 20-month high for the purchasing managers index of au Jibun Bank. The PMI was at 49.0 in November.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 0.8 per cent to 26,412.50 and the Kospi in South Korea rose 0.5 per cent to 2,771.20.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.7 per cent to 6,679.20 and the Shanghai Composite index edged 0.1 per cent higher, to 3,370.44.

A woman walks by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

In the US, negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on another round of coronavirus relief have been dragging on for weeks. Fresh signs of cooperation on Tuesday appeared to boost the market’s confidence that Washington can get past its partisan divide and hammer out a deal.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a detailed proposal on Tuesday, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held another round of talks.

A vaccine candidate developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health may be on the cusp of regulatory approval after the Food and Drug Administration said its preliminary analysis confirmed its safety and effectiveness. It would join the nation’s first vaccine, which just began rolling out.

Hundreds of hospital and healthcare facilities got their first shipments on Tuesday of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

The S&P 500 rose 47.13 points to 3,694.62. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.1 per cent to 30,199.31.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 1.3 per cent, to 12,595.06.

Small-company stocks did especially well, a sign that investors are feeling more optimistic about prospects for the economy. The Russell 2000 index picked up 2.4 per cent, to 1,959.76, a record high.

Another big gain for Apple also helped to lift Wall Street. The most influential stock in the S&P 500 because of its massive market value, it rose five per cent after a report from Japan’s Nikkei said it may produce more iPhones in the first half of 2021 than analysts had been expecting.

Another round of financial support from Washington could help carry the economy through what’s expected to be a bleak winter, before vaccines help things get closer to normal
next year.

“It does feel like we’re getting closer, albeit to a leaner package that addresses the near-term threats facing the country. But that’s better than the alternative of moving into 2021 without any support measures in place,” Craig Erlam of Oanda said in a commentary.

The number of US workers applying for unemployment benefits is back on the rise, as governments around the country and world bring back varying degrees of restrictions on businesses. Even without lockdown orders, the fear is that the rising number of deaths will keep customers away from businesses.

Still, the S&P 500 remains near its record set a week ago. Massive efforts by the Federal Reserve have provided another huge underpinning, and the central bank began its last policy meeting of the year on Tuesday.

It will announce its decision after already cutting short-term interest rates to nearly zero and indicating it will keep them there for a while even if inflation rises above its target of two per cent. The yield on the 10-year Treasury was steady at 0.91 per cent.

In other trading, benchmark US crude oil shed 15 cents to 47.47 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose USD0.63 on Tuesday to USD47.62.

Brent crude, the international standard, gave up USD0.18, to USD50.58 per barrel.

The US dollar slipped to JPY103.55 from JPY103.68 on Tuesday. The euro rose to USD1.2162 from USD1.2155.