Asian Stocks Notch Succession of Highs

SYDNEY (Reuters) -
A man walks past an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Asian shares wrung out another decade peak on Wednesday as data showed China’s demand for imports remained buoyant, while the dollar dipped amid concerns Republican plans for major U.S. tax cuts were running into headwinds.

Beijing reported imports in October rose 17.2 percent from a year earlier, beating forecasts of 16 percent, but export growth was just under estimates at 6.9 percent.

China’s blue-chip CSI300 index gained 0.6 percent to reach ground last trod in mid-2015, just one of many milestones across the region.

Hong Kong stocks made a decade top, powered by investor enthusiasm for tech stocks as shares in China Literature Ltd doubled in their red-hot debut.

Likewise, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan erased early losses to rise 0.2 percent, its highest since November 2007.

Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.2 percent, though that followed its best close since 1992, and Australia’s main index notched its loftiest reading since 2008.

EMini futures for the S&P 500 suffered a hiccup on a report by the Washington Post that Senate Republican leaders were considering a one-year delay in the implementation of a corporate tax cut, a centerpiece of the House plan.

Spreadbetters pointed to modest opening losses for the major European bourses.

Investors were also keeping a cautious eye on President Donald Trump’s Asian trip as he offered a stern warning to North Korea over its nuclear ambitions.

In the currency market, trading was described as a “random walk” by analysts at Citi, with no clear trend to follow.

The dollar was a slim 0.08 percent lower at 94.833 against a basket of currencies, having again failed to clear resistance around 95.150.

It was 0.2 percent lower on the yen at 113.80, but well within the 112.96/114.74 range of the past 12 sessions.

The euro steadied around $1.1597, having touched a nearly four-month trough at $1.1552 overnight in the wake of disappointing German industrial data.

Wall Street had taken a breather on Tuesday after again making record peaks. The Dow ended up 0.04 percent, while the S&P 500 lost 0.02 percent and the Nasdaq 0.27 percent.

The S&P 500 financial index led decliners with a 1.33 percent fall, in part on concerns a flattening yield curve would crimp profits at banks that borrow short to lend long.

The U.S. yield curve has flattened sharply in the last couple of weeks, with the gap between two- and 10-year yields shrinking to just 68 basis points, the smallest since 2007.

The move largely reflects wagers the Fed is determined to hike in December, pushing up short-term yields. Such a move was likely to ensure inflation stays lower for longer, thus pulling down longer-dated yields and flattening the curve.

Flatter curves are sometimes harbingers of slower economic growth, but can also signal excessive risk taking as investors lend for longer and longer in search of better returns.

Oil markets were dominated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s move to shore up his power base with the arrest of royals, ministers and investors, which an official described as part of “phase one” of a crackdown.

Tensions also escalated between OPEC members Saudi Arabia and Iran, which analysts said did more to rattle the oil market than the prince’s purge.

After reaching a two-and-a-half year top on Monday, Brent crude futures pulled back 15 cents to $63.54 a barrel. U.S. crude was off 21 cents at $56.99.