Equities rally on pandemic recovery, US stimulus optimism

HONG KONG (AFP) – Equities pushed higher yesterday fuelled by the overarching theme of vaccine rollouts, slowing infections and the easing of lockdowns, as well as optimism President Joe Biden will soon be able to sign off on a vast United States (US) stimulus package.

Oil also held on to gains around 13-month highs as a severe cold snap in Texas combined with expectations of a surge in demand in line with the reopening of economies.

With Britain and the US leading the way in rolling out vaccines at the same time as they see a sharp slowdown in new cases and deaths, there are growing calls for governments to lift strict containment measures and get life back to a semblance of normal.

The US on Sunday reported its lowest daily infection number since October, as Britain easily hit a key target for immunising its highest-risk people, while the European Union (EU) – which is struggling with its vaccine programme – has ramped up plans to deliver more jabs.

“Rapid vaccine uptake means consensus is aligned to a surge in economic activity and strong profit recovery,” said Axi strategist Stephen Innes.

He added that with the Federal Reserve’s ultra-loose monetary policies and Biden’s stimulus on the way, “it certainly feels like the path of least resistance remains higher, as calls grow more vocal for an increase in the pace of reopening and the positive implications that would have for some areas of the market”.

While Biden’s spending package is widely expected to pass through the Democrat-controlled Congress, analysts have warned it might not be as big as the USD1.9 trillion he proposed, though it is still expected to be north of a trillion.

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

Hong Kong jumped 1.9 per cent to levels last seen in June 2018 as traders returned from an extended holiday weekend, while Tokyo was also more than one per cent higher a day after breaking 30,000 points for the first time in three decades.

Wellington rebounded from a steep loss after New Zealand’s government said there had been no reports of community transmission of the virus in Auckland, with the city in lockdown following the discovery of the United Kingdom (UK) strain.

Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta were also higher but Mumbai fell. Shanghai was closed for holidays.

London, Paris and Frankfurt all rose at the open.

David Kelly at JP Morgan Asset Management said in a note, “A combination of a receding pandemic and extra fiscal stimulus should lead to a very rapid acceleration in economic activity over the course of 2021.

“The most important unknown is the extent to which a rapid recovery, fuelled by significant and broad fiscal stimulus, could boost inflation via temporary excess demand for labour, goods and services.”

But he said that while inflation will likely jump, “the Fed has made it clear that they do not intend to raise short-term interest rates until the economy has achieved ‘maximum employment’”.

Oil prices edged higher thanks to bets on a surge in demand as the world reopens, with WTI holding above USD60 as Texas suffers freezing temperatures that have hit production, transport and power.

“Global supply is getting tighter with the US cold snap here to stay for now, and there are also expectations for demand to improve,” said Will Sungchil Yun at VI Investment Corp adding it “doesn’t look impossible” for WTI to hit USD65.

On currency markets, the pound rose to a near three-year high close to USD1.40 as Britain’s vaccine programme speeds along. Bitcoin hit another record of USD49,913 before easing back slightly.