Equity markets build on Wall St lead after US jobs data

HONG KONG (AFP) – Markets rose yesterday, capping another painful week for investors as a forecast-beating United States (US) jobs report and Joe Biden’s pledge to double his vaccination target soothed recent worries over rising infections and new lockdowns in Europe.

However, long-running concerns over inflation caused by the expected economic resurgence continue to cast a pall over trading floors, while China-US tensions have also inched back into the narrative.

Wall Street’s three main indexes enjoyed gains after data showed US unemployment claims last week came in below 700,000 for the first time since the pandemic, reinforcing optimism that the world’s top economy is on the mend.

And Asia followed suit, with Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Mumbai each adding more than one per cent, while Sydney, Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok were also up, though there were some losses in Manila and Wellington.

London, Paris and Frankfurt continued the rally as they opened.

The US jobs figures came as Biden gave the first news conference of his presidency, at which he promised 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine would be administered in his first 100 days.

A currency trader near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index. PHOTO: AP

His pledge lifted hopes that strict containment measures could be gradually lifted, allowing life to return to a semblance of normality sooner and getting people spending again.

But the positive outlook has investors fearing a huge consumer spending splurge – along with Biden’s recently passed USD1.9 trillion stimulus – will send inflation soaring and force the Federal Reserve to tighten the ultra-loose monetary policies that have been a key pillar of a year-long markets rally.

And while Fed boss Jerome Powell has repeatedly stated he will not hike interest rates from record lows until inflation is running hot for an extended period, traders are increasingly betting on an increase coming sooner rather than later.

This has sent benchmark 10-year US Treasury yields, a barometer of future interest rates, to a one-year high.

“President Biden may yet play a part in next week’s fun and games as he is likely to release preliminary details of the follow-on USD3 trillion remaking America package,” said OANDA’s Jeffrey Halley. “Although taxes will rise to pay for part of it, more debt issuance is on the way, which could be enough to lift US bond yields once again.”

And National Australia Bank analyst Tapas Strickland said investors were questioning the Fed’s ability to stick to its promise, pointing out that Powell had indicated a rollback of some easing measures as progress was made on the bank’s inflation and unemployment goals.

“Nothing new in those words, of course, but a hint that as the economy rebounds, Fed guidance could evolve, particularly around the asset purchase programme,” Strickland added.