Asian Shares Retreat From Highs, Markets Take Trump Impeachment in Stride

TOKYO (Reuters) -
A man watches an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Asian shares pulled back from a one-and-a-half-year peak on Thursday as investors took some money off the table ahead of end-of-year trade and looked to fresh data on the state of the global economy.

Investors were also watching proceedings in Washington where the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Republican U.S. President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Market reaction, however, has so far been limited as the Republican-controlled Senate is widely expected not to vote to remove Trump from office.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan briefly touched the highest since June 2018 but then fell 0.4%.

Australian shares erased early gains to trade 0.27% lower due to declines in the mining sector, while Chinese shares fell 0.32%.

The pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures were down 0.05%, German DAX futures were down 0.12%, but FTSE futures edged up 0.02%.

The pound nursed heavy losses on concerns Britain could still crash out of the European Union without a trade deal in place after a transition period ending in December 2020.

Traders also await a Bank of England (BoE) policy meeting later Thursday. No change in policy is expected, but the meeting could pose further downside risks for sterling if more policymakers swing to the dovish camp and vote for an interest rate cut.

Overall sentiment was supportive of equities and riskier assets, but less favorable for safe-haven assets like bonds due to expectations that economic growth will start to pick up next year after a tumultuous 2019.

“Data has been generally supportive of an improvement in economic performance,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney.

“Investors can look forward to stronger growth next year, but a lot of this has already been reflected in share markets.”

U.S. stock futures edged 0.04% lower on the day. The S&P 500 fell 0.04% on Wednesday, weighed by a steep drop in FedEx Corp shares after the U.S. parcel delivery company cut its fiscal 2020 profit forecast.

At one stage in the previous session, the S&P 500 scored its fifth consecutive record high, and analysts said market sentiment remained largely upbeat following last week’s announcement of an initial U.S.-China trade agreement.

Other analysts pointed to recent data releases showing economic improvements in China, the United States and Germany as reasons to be more optimistic.

In the currency market, sterling traded at $1.3086, having tumbled more than 3% from an 18-month high struck on Dec. 13 after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party scored a landslide victory in a general election.

Against the euro, the pound stood at 85.06 pence, close to its weakest since Dec. 4.

Johnson’s government on Tuesday ruled out an extension to the December 2020 deadline for negotiations on a trade deal with the EU, creating a new Brexit cliff-edge and cutting short sterling’s post-election rally.

The focus shifts to the BoE’s policy meeting later Thursday. At its previous meeting, two of the central bank’s nine policymakers voted to cut interest rates.

British inflation remained mired at a three-year low in November, data showed on Wednesday, and uncertainty surrounding Brexit remains high, but this is unlikely to shift expectations that monetary policy will remain on hold.

The Australian dollar jumped by 0.36% to $0.6879 after better-than-expected data on the labor market dented expectations for interest rate cuts.

The yen held steady at 109.58 per dollar after the Bank of Japan kept its quantitative easing in place and issued a gloomier assessment on factory output.

Brent crude rose 0.03% to $66.20 per barrel, but U.S. crude dipped 0.03% to $60.91 a barrel after U.S. government data showed a decline in crude inventories.

Prices are likely to be supported due to production cuts coming from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia.