Asia Shares Off 7-Month Peak, Mood Turns Cautious

SYDNEY (Reuters) -
A visitor sits in front of stock trading boards at a private stock market gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)

Asian shares briefly brushed seven-month peaks on Monday as investors cheered a rebound in U.S. payrolls and hints of more stimulus in China, but caution soon surfaced ahead of what is likely to be a tough U.S. earnings season.

In a document published on the central government’s website late on Sunday, Beijing said it would step up a policy of targeted cuts to banks’ required reserve ratios to encourage financing for small and medium-sized businesses.

Chinese blue chips initially climbed to territory not visited since March last year, only to fade 1 percent as the session wore on. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan went flat having reached its highest since August.

Japan’s Nikkei was off 0.1 percent after reaching its high of the year so far. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 eased 0.2 percent and futures pointed to a soft start for the major European bourses.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 had closed higher for its seventh trading day in a row last week, the longest winning streak since October 2017.

However, a test looms as major U.S. banks kick off what analysts expect to be the first quarter of contracting corporate earnings since 2016.

JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co will get the ball rolling on Friday.

Before that, minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting are due out on Wednesday.

Markets will be looking at just how dovish the FOMC has become,” wrote analysts at TD Securities in a note. “We put a very low but not zero chance on a rate-cut discussion; conversely rate hikes are still on the horizon for the majority of Fed officials.”

“The minutes are likely to show peak dovishness in terms of nervousness about the outlook.”

There was a huge sigh of relief globally on Friday when the U.S. payrolls report showed a solid 196,000 rise in jobs in March, while annual wage growth slowed a little to 3.2 percent.

“This data assuages both the downside and upside fears,” said Alan Ruskin, global head of G10 FX Strategy at Deutsche Bank. “Fears of soft growth are assuaged. On the upside, the wage data does not point to further acceleration that would threaten inflation.”

“It plays to [the] idea that the U.S. economy remains reasonably robust, and does not justify any rate-cut expectations over, say, the next six months, and is to that extent going to play to buying U.S. dollar dips versus the majors.”

The dollar drifted off to 97.266 against a basket of currencies on Monday, shying away from the March peak at 97.710 which marks major chart resistance.

The dollar surrendered some of its recent gains on the Japanese yen to 111.41, and again needs to clear the March top of 112.12 to spark a true uptrend.

The euro has been undermined by a string of dismal data out of Europe and idled at $1.1226 not far from its recent 20-month trough at $1.1174.

Sterling had troubles of its own at $1.3063 as time ticks away to Britain’s departure from the European Union on April 12, with no deal agreed.

Prime Minister Theresa May must come up with a new plan to secure a delay from EU leaders at a summit on Wednesday.

In commodity markets, spot gold was a fraction firmer at $1,296.52 per ounce.

Oil prices rose to their highest levels since Nov. 2018, driven by OPEC’s ongoing supply cuts and U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela.

U.S. crude was last up 28 cents at $63.36 a barrel, while Brent crude futures rose 29 cents to $70.63.