Asian shares rebound as some traders temper pessimism

TOKYO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian shares recovered early losses and crept into positive territory on Wednesday, but stock futures pointed to a lower European open as worries about a slow economic recovery from the coronavirus weighed on global sentiment.

Investors, many facing steep losses due to the pandemic-driven shakeout in assets over the past few months, have also had to contend with renewed U.S.-China trade tensions.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan erased an early decline and rose 0.3%.

Shares in China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.2%. U.S. stock futures, the S&P 500 e-minis, rose 0.4%.

Futures in Europe painted a more pessimistic picture. Euro Stoxx 50 futures were down 1.32%, German DAX futures lost 1.29%, and FTSE futures fell 1.01%

Oil markets, which have plummeted this year due to a combination of a collapse in demand and a supply glut, lost further ground.

Treasury yields also inched lower amid caution before a speech by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and rising speculation the United States could one day adopt negative interest rates.

“A decrease in coronavirus cases was the major reason why markets rallied from mid-April, but from here on stocks will move in a broad range,” said Masayuki Kichikawa, chief macro strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co. in Tokyo.

“The risk of a resurgence in infections will cap the upside, but extremely easy monetary policy put in place so far will limit the downside.”

Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned lawmakers that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed 80,000 Americans and brought the economy to its knees.

Fauci’s comments hit Wall Street stocks overnight, underlining fragile investor sentiment, which has in recent sessions swung between optimism over some easing in lockdowns globally and anxiety about a fresh spike in virus cases.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.89% on Tuesday, the S&P 500 lost 2.05% and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.06%.

The mood was further soured by proposed legislation from a leading U.S. Republican senator that would authorize President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on China if it fails to give a full account of events leading to the outbreak.

Asian shares got off to a weak start, but sentiment gradually improved as U.S. stock futures edged into the positive territory.

South Korean shares rose 0.7%. Australian shares also rose 0.4%, helped by gains in the healthcare sector. Japan’s Nikkei stock index bucked the trend and fell 0.5%.

Stock markets have rebounded sharply in recent weeks as the spread of the coronavirus slowed in some countries in Asia and Europe, while parts of the U.S. economy began to reopen.

However, some investors still worry that a rush to re-open factories and shops may be premature.

The New Zealand dollar slumped to a six-month low after the country’s central bank doubled its quantitative easing programme and said it has asked commercial banks to be ready for negative interest rates by year’s end.

The U.S. dollar nursed losses as traders braced for Powell’s speech, which will cover economic issues and may offer hints on whether negative rates are a viable policy option.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes trimmed losses to trade at 0.6687%. The two-year yield stood at 0.1649%, above a record low of 0.1050% hit on Friday.

Trump on Tuesday again pushed the Fed to adopt negative rates, a hot topic in financial markets since last week when U.S. money markets started to price in a chance of rates below zero.

U.S. consumer prices dropped 0.8% in April, the biggest decline since the global financial crisis.

Oil futures fell in Asia as worries about the virus overcame hope that output cuts would put a floor under prices.

U.S. crude fell 0.74% to $25.59 a barrel. Brent crude fell 1.9% to $29.41 per barrel.

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