Asian Stocks Jump to 1-Year Highs as Yield Hunt Spreads

HONG KONG (Reuters) -
A man walks past an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 at a securities firm in Tokyo Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Asian shares were mixed Tuesday following modest gains on Wall Street and a contraction of an indicator of Japanese manufacturing activity in March, the first in 10 months. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A man walks past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 at a securities firm in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Asian stocks rose to one-year highs and the Australian dollar climbed on Monday as investors’ hunt for yield gathered momentum against a backdrop of a recovering U.S. economy and ultra-easy easy global monetary policy conditions.

While the strong July U.S. payrolls data raised hopes that the world’s largest economy may have conclusively turned a corner after some volatile readings this year, markets expect the Federal Reserve will only hike in 2017 given that other countries are still cutting rates.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.7 percent and hit its highest level since August 11 last year. It is up 12 percent in six weeks.

“The general sentiment among investors in emerging markets is to make hay while the sun shines even though this rally is starting to look a bit dangerous,” said Cliff Tan, East Asian head of global markets research at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ based in Hong Kong, referring to stretched valuations.

Japan and Australian markets led regional gainers while mainland China shares lagged, weighed down by disappointing Chinese trade data.

The U.S. Department of Labor said July nonfarm payrolls rose by 255,000 and revised the June increase upward to 292,000. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast July payrolls would increase by 180,000.

Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, said equities reacted positively to the jobs report which shed a positive light on the U.S. economy, while prospects of a near-term rate hike by the Federal Reserve – generally seen as a negative for riskier assets – remained subdued.

“The Fed funds rate futures are still only pricing in about a 26-percent chance of a U.S. rate hike in September and October, and about a 46-percent chance for December. This shows that investors don’t really expect the Fed to hike rates until December,” Fujito said.

The strong U.S. jobs report was a rare bright spot of data in the global economic landscape, with Australia’s central bank and the Bank of England cutting interest rates last week and New Zealand set to follow in coming days.

Along with a presidential election campaign, the global easing by central banks will cap the ability of the Fed to move on interest rates in the coming months, said Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at Blackrock.

The hunt for yield saw safe-haven government debt prices taking it on the chin. Ten-year Japanese bond futures tanked and even 10-year Australian bond yields, a target for yield-happy investors, firmed to 1.97 percent.

In currency markets, the dollar was up 0.3 percent at 102.04 yen. It was steady against the euro at $1.10925.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, softened to 96.169, not far from a one-week high of 96.522 hit on Friday after the jobs report.

While major currencies are expected to stick to recent ranges, market participants say thin market conditions could amplify moves, and higher U.S. rates were far from guaranteed.

Despite a cut in interest rates last week, the Aussie was among best performing currency in Asia as its relatively higher interest rate offer and AAA credit ratings strengthened its appeal. It was up 0.01 percent at 0.7613.

In commodities, spot gold was up 0.16 percent to $1,337.02 an ounce, a low not seen since July 29.

Crude oil futures, which ended modestly lower on Friday, rose on Monday. U.S. crude added 0.48 percent to $42 a barrel, while Brent crude was up 0.45 percent at $44.47.