HONG KONG (Reuters) - Asian stocks erased early losses and edged higher on Thursday as steadying commodity prices, especially crude oil, prompted some bargain hunting by investors.
But markets cautiously stuck to well-worn trading ranges ahead of global risk events such as the first round of French presidential elections over the weekend and continued tensions over North Korea.
Stock index futures in Europe were set to follow the broadly cautious undertone, with markets set to open flat to slightly lower.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3 percent after declining 0.5 percent in early trades. Gains in Chinese and Japanese stocks pulled the broader market higher.
“Given the binary risk of the French presidential elections and geopolitical concerns over North Korea, investors are staying on the sidelines,” said Fan Cheuk Wan, head of investment strategy and advisory, Asia, HSBC Private Banking. “We are looking at the opportunities in Asia, particularly equities in China and India where corporate earnings are expected to be strong this year.”
Centrist Emmanuel Macron clung to his status as the favorite to win France’s presidential election in a four-way race that is too close to call, as the camp of far-right challenger Marine Le Pen ramped up its euro-skeptic rhetoric in a row with Brussels.
Japanese stocks rose 0.2 percent, buoyed by data showing exports rose by a stronger-than-expected 12.0 percent in March from a year earlier and a Reuters survey that showed confidence among Japanese manufacturers has risen to levels not seen since before the 2008 global financial crisis.
“Even though a technical rebound in the Tokyo market lifts stocks, the basic trend to avoid risks hasn’t changed,” said Hiroyuki Nakai, chief strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. “There is still so much uncertainty from global events.”
Caution remained the overarching theme as cash levels among investors remained above the 10-year average in a monthly poll conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Weak results from index heavyweight IBM pulled the S&P 500 and Dow lower, with falls in energy sector stocks also weighing on the broader market.
Bonds also came in for some profit-taking after a recent rally, with yields on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes firming to 2.21 percent from a five-month low of 2.165 percent hit on Tuesday.
A run of disappointing U.S. economic data and worries that the Trump administration will struggle to push through tax cuts have quelled expectations of faster inflation.
The dollar failed to capitalize on higher U.S. yields, with the greenback hugging the 200-day moving average of around 108.85 against the Japanese yen as traders preferred to trade on market technicals rather than take fresh bets.
Oil languished near a two-week low after a surprising build in U.S. gasoline inventories and a rise in domestic crude output partially offseting cutbacks by other countries trying to reduce a global glut.
U.S. crude futures climbed 0.22 percent to $50.55 a barrel, after posting a near 4 percent drop overnight, the biggest one-day decline since March 8.
Gold was trading at $1279.20 per ounce, below Monday’s peak of $1,295.42.