US and allies condemn China over Hong Kong national security law

Law a direct violation of China’s international obligations, says a joint statement by the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

China’s plan to impose a new security law on Hong Kong puts it in direct violation of its international commitments, the United States and its allies – the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – have said.

“China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” a joint statement released by the four countries said on Thursday.

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  • ‘A blow to autonomy’: China’s planned Hong Kong security law

  • Pompeo declares Hong Kong ‘no longer autonomous’ from China

The proposed Chinese law would undermine the “one country, two systems” framework, the four allies said in the statement, referring to the arrangement under which Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997.

“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom,” the US and allies said, adding their “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong”.

The condemnation was issued after China’s parliament earlier on Thursday rubber-stamped a law initially proposed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) after huge pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub for nearly 11 months.

The vote was 2,878-1 with six abstentions, in line with the high-profile but largely ceremonial body’s custom of near-unanimous support for all legal changes decided by the ruling Communist Party.

The law will alter Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require the territory to enforce measures to be decided by the NPC’s standing committee, a small body controlled by the governing party that handles most legislative work.

China says the legislation will aim to tackle secession, subversion, “terrorism” and foreign interference in the city but the plan, unveiled in Beijing last week, triggered the first big protests in Hong Kong for months.

US-China tensions

The US and allies said they were “extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society”.

“The law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong,” they said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the US Congress on Wednesday that the White House no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, further deteriorating relations between the two nations.

Pompeo’s notice to the US Congress added Hong Kong to the Trump administration’s increasing conflicts with China over trade, technology, religious freedom, Chinese handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the status of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its territory.

More than 1,300 US companies have offices in Hong Kong, providing about 100,000 jobs.

“Several countries have expressed deep concern over this law, but the United States has been the loudest and strongest in its rebuke,” Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reported from Beijing.

Yu said the US-China relationship has hit an all-time low, one of the “lowest points it has been in decades”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also defended the autonomy of Hong Kong, asserting that “freedom of expression and assembly and also democratic debate in Hong Kong must continue to be respected in the future”.

China, meanwhile, said it would take necessary countermeasures to any foreign interference into what it insists are its internal affairs.

Premier Li Keqiang, in a news conference on Thursday, called for mutual respect and Sino-US cooperation to promote “extensive common interests” in resolving global problems and promoting trade, science and other fields.

“Both countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” Li said.


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Hong Kong's leader says security laws will not affect city's rights and freedoms

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday added to a raft of attempts by local and Beijing officials to provide reassurance that proposed national security laws would not trample on the city’s rights and freedoms, amid widespread concerns.

Lam said those concerned need to wait for the details of the proposed legislation.

The comments came after Beijing unveiled plans last week for national security legislation for Hong Kong that aim to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities and could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in the city.

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Spike in some Hong Kong flat sales raises fraud suspicions

HONG KONG (REUTERS) – A jump in the number of Hong Kong flats selling for exactly HK$10 million (S$1.8 million) in recent months has raised suspicions about potential fraud, following a relaxation of mortgage rules for properties sold at that price.

Regulators loosened rules in October, allowing buyers to borrow up to 80 per cent on properties worth HK$10 million or less versus HK$6 million previously, but still only enough for small-to-medium flats in one of the world’s most expensive markets.

For properties priced above HK$10 million, a 50 per cent downpayment is still required.

Data from realtor Ricacorp shows the number of home transactions priced at exactly HK$10 million rose in March and April to 61 and 70 respectively, from usually fewer than 40.

Property and mortgage agents said sellers, under pressure to offload flats as the recession weighs on prices, could be open to helping buyers get higher financing ratios by declaring a lower transaction price and settling the rest separately.

This could constitute both mortgage fraud and tax evasion, realtors said. It can also distort market data that helps with pricing other flats, with HK$10 million transactions now representing close to 2 per cent of monthly totals.

“This can only be done in a turning market when bank valuation is leading the transaction price, otherwise banks may not approve the mortgage,” said Eric Tso, a senior vice president of mortgage agent mReferral Corporation.

Reuters could not verify whether any of the transactions were misrepresenting the full amount.

Bank officials, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak to media, said they were aware of the trend and as a precaution did not approve applications if transaction values were 10-20 per cent below the amount estimated by their evaluators.

Since the coronavirus outbreak in January, banks also increased scrutiny on applicants who work in retail, food and beverages and the aviation industries, property sources said.

Banks have been beefing up mortgage standards since the economy officially plunged into recession late last year, including issuing guidelines that monthly mortgage payments cannot exceed 65 per cent of income.

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Dollar edges up, Asian stocks slip as U.S.-China tensions flare

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar inched higher, stock markets struggled for traction and oil fell on Monday as a U.S.-China spat over the origin of the coronavirus put the brakes on optimism about an economic re-start as countries around the world ease restrictions.

In reduced trade, with China and Japan on holiday, U.S. stock futures fell 1.7% and U.S. crude tumbled 7%. The safe-haven U.S. dollar rallied to one-week highs against the risk sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars.

South Korea’s KOSPI fell, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng returned from a two-session holiday with a 3.5% drop, while Australia’s ASX 200 eked out a 0.5% gain.

The moves extended a dour start in May which began on Friday with bleak U.S. data and the threat of fresh trade-war hostilities between the world’s two biggest economies.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added to worries with fresh efforts to pin blame for the pandemic on China, where the new coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated.

The latest salvo came from Pompeo on Sunday who said there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the virus emerged from a laboratory in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Pompeo did not provide evidence, or dispute a U.S. intelligence conclusion that the virus was not man-made. But the comments double down on Washington’s pressure on China as U.S. deaths and economic damage mount.

“The risk of a pullback has increased this week,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone.

“The United States is not alone in publicly taking aim at China, but whether it’s Trump, Kudlow or Pompeo the narrative is more frequent, and traders are selling yuan,” he said.

With Chinese markets shut on the mainland, offshore yuan extended Friday’s slump to hit a six-week low of 7.1560 per dollar before clawing back to flat.

The Australian dollar dropped below the 64-cent mark for the first time in a week, falling 0.4% to $0.6390.

Benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasuries hardly budged from elevated levels, with the yield holding at 0.6181% as demand for safe-haven assets was firm. Gold steadied at $1,696.41 per ounce.

BLAME GAME

An increase in tension between Washington and Beijing comes as both countries suffer the economic fallout from the pandemic and the disruption wrought by lockdowns to combat it.

China has reported its first quarterly GDP contraction since such records began a generation ago, and posted a slump in April export orders last week.

U.S. manufacturing plunged to an 11-year low last month, consumer spending has collapsed and some 30.3 million Americans have filed claims for unemployment in the last six weeks.

“Trump is looking to get re-elected…,” said Nomura’s joint head of APAC equity research Jim McCafferty, likening the move to “Japan-bashing” by then-president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

“We’ve seen this before, and I think as governments around the world become increasingly domestically focused…finding a villian elsewhere makes a lot of sense,” he said.

That means a challenge for investors looking for income which seems to have, for now, stumped even billionaire Warren Buffett.

Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, made an almost $50 billion loss in the first quarter, but ended it with a record cash pile and nothing to spend it on.

Buffett said he remains keen on making a big acquisition, but has not provided financial support to companies as he did during the 2008 financial crisis because he saw nothing attractive enough.

Elsewhere in currency markets, the safe-haven Japanese yen rose 0.2% to 106.72 per dollar and the euro was a touch weaker at $1.0950. The pound and New Zealand dollar slipped.

In commodity markets, U.S. crude futures sank in early trade on worries about oil oversupply and crumbling demand, even as some U.S. states and cities around the world start to ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures last sat at $18.38 per barrel, down $1.40, while Brent futures were down 2.4%, or 62 cents, at $25.82.

The U.S. April jobs report will be released on Friday, but some analysts say it may not fully reflect how many people have been thrown out of work.

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Hong Kong activists arrested over last year's mass protests

Police arrest at least 14 pro-democracy figures, including ex-legislators, over protests that shook Chinese territory.

Police in Hong Kong have arrested at least 14 pro-democracy activists in connection with the mass protests that rocked the Asian financial hub last year.

Among those targeted on Saturday was media tycoon Jimmy Lai, founder of anti-establishment tabloid Apple Daily, who was arrested at his home, according to local media reports.

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The group also included former legislators 81-year-old Martin Lee, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin, who are accused of organising and taking part in unlawful assemblies in August and October, according to several current Hong Kong legislators. In all, nine former legislators were arrested.

Lee is a prominent Democratic Party founder and senior barrister, who is known as the founding father of Hong Kong’s democratic movement as well as one of the architects of the city’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution under which Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Lai was also arrested in February, along with veteran activists Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum, over their involvement in a mass anti-government demonstration on August 31 last year.

Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, reporting from Hong Kong, said the police will be releasing a statement to give more details about the latest arrests.

“But, according to one of the those legislative councillors who has been arrested, he posted on social media saying that it is most likely due to their involvement in protests in the past year, particularly the one on August 18 which was against Hong Kong’s extradition law that has been removed since,” she said.

The raids mark the biggest crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since the outbreak of large and sometimes violent anti-government protests across the former British colony in June last year.

Marchers initially targeted a now-scrapped bill proposing to send suspects to mainland China for trial but protests broadened into demands for full democracy and a public investigation of the use of force by police.

‘Ring of terror’

Saturday’s arrests come after several months of relative calm amid a partial coronavirus lockdown but just as Chinese and city government officials launch a new push for tougher national security laws for Hong Kong.

Democratic legislator Claudia Mo, who was not among those arrested, said the government, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, was trying “to introduce a ring of terror in Hong Kong”.

“They are doing whatever they can to try to silence, to take down, the local opposition,” she said, pointing to upcoming legislative elections in September in which democrats hope to win back their former veto power in the city assembly.

The pro-democracy protests and movement has recently died down, partly due to exhaustion and arrests but also because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hong Kong’s autonomy has been a point of renewed concern after Beijing’s top office in the territory said it has the right and responsibility to be involved in the city’s affairs.

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution restricts Beijing from interfering in local affairs.

But on Friday, Beijing’s top office in Hong Kong said it was not bound by Hong Kong’s laws and therefore has the right to “supervise” how the “one country, two systems” principle is being implemented.

The unprecedented statement came after the liaison office accused opposition politicians of abusing their power in the legislative council.

Al Jazeera’s Gopalan said the crackdown was “very timely” since it will not spark much reaction amid the lockdown restrictions.

“This is a particularly useful time for them to do it because people are not allowed on the streets and are not allowed to protest and the pro-democract camp basically says that this is government’s attempt at completely shutting down any democratic movements in the city.”

China’s leaders have refused to accede to the protesters’ demands, which include fully free elections in the city of more than 7 million, an inquiry into alleged police misconduct during the protests and an amnesty for more than 7,000 people arrested during the movement.


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Asia shares seen higher but economic woes may cap gains

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian stocks were set for a modest bounce on Tuesday as U.S. stock futures edged higher, although fears the coronavirus could drag on the global economy for months are likely to temper investor confidence.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 nudged 0.3% higher, while Nikkei futures NKc1 pointed to an opening gain of about 70 points.

All eyes will be on China’s trade data, to be released on Tuesday, which is expected to show exports tumbling 14% in March from a year ago, as the coronavirus shutters businesses around the world, crippling demand and economic growth.

Indeed, some analysts are saying any optimism over signs the outbreak may be peaking in hard-hit cities is quickly being offset by concerns that it may be awhile yet before businesses recover.

“Signs of the outbreak peaking — or at least slowing in some regions — have started to turn the talk to when restrictions on activity can be eased,” analysts at JPMorgan said in a note.

“Short of the unlikely near-term event of a vaccine or significant herd immunity, restarting economies…may be challenging,” the analysts wrote.

Wall Street indexes ended mixed on Monday with the Dow and S&P 500 falling while a 6.2% gain in Amazon shares helped the Nasdaq end higher.

In Asia, an expected trade slump in China will reinforce views that the world is headed for a global recession this year, despite an unprecedented burst of stimulus from policymakers in the last two months to shore up growth.

Many analysts already expect China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, to have contracted sharply in the March quarter for the first time since at least 1992. China reports its first-quarter gross domestic product data on April 17.

Elsewhere, Britain’s finance minister told colleagues the UK economy could shrink by up to 30% this quarter due to the coronavirus lockdown that has shuttered businesses.

In another sign of worries about struggling global demand, oil prices barely reacted to a global deal to cut output by a record amount of nearly 10% of world supply. U.S. crude CLc1 was up just 39 cents at $22.8, well under its January peak of $63.27.

A skittish market helped gold prices XAU= to cling to highs not seen in more than seven years at $1,718.46 an ounce.

In the United States, which has recorded the highest number of casualties from the virus in the world, President Donald Trump said on Monday his administration was close to completing a plan to re-open the U.S. economy, even though some state governors have signalled that the decision on when to restart businesses lay with them.

The dollar continued to extend losses on the back of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s massive new lending programme. The dollar index =USD fell 0.105%, while the Japanese yen JPY= was flat versus the greenback at 107.68 per dollar. The euro EUR= was also little changed against the dollar at $1.0917.

The yield for benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes US10YT=RR edged higher to 0.7697%.

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Asian stocks gain on hopes pandemic is approaching peak

TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Asian shares rose on Thursday on hopes the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing a peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus measures, while expectations of an oil production cut agreement bolstered crude prices.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.6%, following a strong Wall Street close.

Shares in China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.54%. Australian shares were up 1.52%.

Oil prices extended gains on hopes major producers will cut output at a meeting later in the day in response to a collapse in global oil demand.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s efforts at social distancing were working in getting the virus under control in one of the biggest hot spots in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would like to reopen the U.S. economy with a “big bang” but that the death toll from the coronavirus first needs to be heading down.

“There are signs that infections are peaking, which is leading to the change in market sentiment,” said Masayuki Kichikawa, chief macro strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co in Tokyo.

“We still need to be very careful, because this is not purely an economic problem. It’s more like a natural disaster and, therefore, harder to predict.”

The S&P 500 gained 3.41% on Wednesday, helped by hopes the pandemic was nearing its peak. However, U.S. stock futures gave up earlier gains to be down 0.27%

The Trump administration has asked lawmakers for an additional $250 billion in aid for small U.S. businesses.

However, congressional efforts were stalling as Democrats held out for similar amounts of aid for hospitals and local governments.

Wall Street rallied on Trump’s optimism though recent U.S. data and forecasts are only now beginning to reflect the economic damage.

McDonald’s Corp said global comparable sales tumbled 22.2% in March, while Starbucks Corp forecast a 47% drop in second-quarter earnings.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index bucked the regional trend and fell 0.55% as coronavirus infections in the country rose and following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo and other urban areas.

The novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, infecting more than 1.4 million people and causing more than 83,400 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new virus emerged late last year, ended its more-than two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but many officials across the world remain nervous about the pace of infections and deaths.

The euro nursed losses against the dollar and the pound after euro zone finance ministers failed on Wednesday to agree on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies.

The pandemic is still infecting and killing large numbers of people across Europe and there is still no sign that the peak of the region’s outbreak has been reached, the EU’s disease monitoring agency said.

Sterling edged up for a third consecutive session. Helping confidence was news British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition is improving and he is able to sit up in bed and engage with clinical staff.

Johnson is in intensive care battling COVID-19.

U.S. crude rose 4.58% to $26.24 a barrel. Brent crude rose 2.5% to $33.71 per barrel.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies including Russia – a group known as OPEC+ – are set to convene a video conference meeting on Thursday.

Hopes of an agreement to cut between 10 million and 15 million barrels per day (bpd) rose after media reports suggested Russia was ready to reduce its output by 1.6 million bpd.

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Oil slips on oversupply fears, but stocks jump on virus slowdown hopes

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Oil prices skidded on Monday after Saudi-Russian negotiations to cut output were delayed, keeping oversupply concerns alive, while stocks jumped as investors were encouraged by a slowdown in coronavirus-related deaths and new cases.

In currency markets, sterling fell 0.4% early in Asia after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital following persistent coronavirus symptoms 10 days after testing positive for the virus.

Brent crude fell as much as $4 after Saudi Arabia and Russia postponed their meeting, initially scheduled for Monday, to Thursday even as the virus pandemic pummels demand.

Equity investors, however, took solace as the death toll from the coronavirus slowed across major European nations including France and Italy.

“With a very light calendar globally today, there is enough momentum to keep the equity rally running through the course of the day and also into European time,” said Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific, OANDA.

“All bets are off after that although I could see a couple of days of positive sentiment ahead, especially if those mortality rates keep falling.”

U.S. stock futures rose 3.2% during Asian trading after U.S. President Donald Trump expressed hope the country was seeing a “levelling off” of the coronavirus crisis.

Futures for London’s FTSE were up 1.7% while those for Eurostoxx 50 gained 2.6%.

In Asia, Australia’s benchmark index rose 3.3%, Japan’s Nikkei added 2.4% after a slow start while South Korea’s KOSPI index climbed 2.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 0.9% higher.

That sent MSCI’s broadest index of Asian shares outside of Japan up almost 1%, on track for its best performance in a week.

Markets in mainland China were closed for a public holiday.

Worryingly, the number of new coronavirus cases jumped in China on Sunday while the number of asymptomatic cases surged too as Beijing continued to struggle to extinguish the outbreak despite drastic containment efforts.

“Focus in markets will now turn to the path out of lockdown and to what extent containment measures can be lifted without risking a second wave of infections,” National Australia Bank analyst Tapas Strickland wrote in a note.

“Key to a strong rebound in China will be the ongoing lifting of containment measures with Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak – set to lift containment measures on April 8.”

Strickland, however, noted many in China were still subject to social distancing and isolation restrictions to prevent a resurgence in infections.

The pandemic has claimed more than 68,000 lives and infected over a million people globally. The United States has the highest number of reported cases, at over 300,000.

Concerns about heavy damage to the global economy have pushed investors into the perceived safety of government bonds where yields are at or near all-time lows.

Elsewhere in currencies, the dollar gained 0.4% against the yen to 108.93..

The euro was barely moved at $1.0810 while the risk sensitive Australian dollar was up 0.3% at $0.6014. The pound was last down 0.2% at $1.2238.

In commodities, Brent crude futures was down nearly 3%, or $1, at $31.14 a barrel while U.S. crude slipped 4.4%, or $1.24, to $27.09.

Spot gold added 0.2% to $1,619.1 an ounce.

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Asia shares suffer virus chills, central banks offer what they can

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares slid on Monday and oil prices took another tumble as fears mounted that the global shutdown for the coronavirus could last for months, doing untold harm to economies despite central banks’ best efforts.

“We continue to mark down 1H20 global GDP forecasts as our assessment of both the global pandemic’s reach and the damage related to necessary containment policies has increased,” said JPMorgan economist Bruce Kasman.

They now predict global GDP could fall at a 10.5% annualized rate in the first half of the year.

There was much uncertainty about whether funds would have to buy or sell for month- and quarter-end to meet their benchmarks, many of which would have been thrown out of whack by the wild market swings seen over March.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 skidded 1.2% right from the bell, and Japan’s Nikkei 3.7%. EUROSTOXXX 50 futures fell 0.6% and FTSE futures 1.3%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 1.1%, while Shanghai blue chips shed 1.4%.

Central banks have mounted an all-out effort to bolster activity with rate cuts and massive asset-buying campaigns, which have at least eased liquidity strains in markets.

China on Monday became the latest to add stimulus with a cut of 20 basis points in a key repo rate.

Singapore also eased as the city-state’s bellwether economy braced for a deep recession, while New Zealand’s central bank said it would take corporate debt as collateral for loans.

Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB, said the main question for markets was whether all the stimulus would be enough to help the global economy withstand the shock.

“To answer this question, one needs to know the magnitude of the containment measures and for how long they will be implemented,” he added. “This is the big unknown and it suggests markets are likely to remain volatile until this uncertainty is resolved.”

It was not encouraging, then, that British authorities were warning lockdown measures could last months.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday extended guidelines for social restrictions to April 30, despite earlier talking about reopening the economy for Easter.

Japan on Monday expanded its entry ban to include citizens traveling from the United States, China, South Korea and most of Europe.

DOLLAR NOT DONE YET

Bond investors looked to be bracing for a long haul with yields at the very short end of the Treasury curve turning negative and those on 10-year notes dropping a steep 26 basis points last week to last stand at 0.65%.

That drop has combined with efforts by the Federal Reserve to pump more U.S. dollars into markets, and dragged the currency off recent highs.

Indeed, the dollar suffered its biggest weekly decline in more than a decade last week. [USD/]

Against the yen, the dollar was pinned at 107.27, well off the recent high at 111.71. The euro edged back to $1.1096, after rallying more than 4% last week.

“Ultimately, we expect the USD will soon reassert itself as one of the strongest currencies,” argued analysts at CBA, noting the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency made it a countercyclical hedge for investors.

“This means the dollar can rise because of the deteriorating global economic outlook, irrespective of the high likelihood the U.S. is also in recession.”

The dollar’s retreat had provided a fillip for gold, but fresh selling emerged on Monday as investors were forced to liquidate profitable positions to cover losses elsewhere. The metal was last off 0.5% at $1,609.42 an ounce.

Oil prices were again under water as Saudi Arabia and Russia show no signs of backing down in their price war.

Brent crude futures lost $1.56 to $23.37 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell $1.12 to $20.39.

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Asian markets tread cautiously ahead of U.S. stimulus, jobs

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stock markets made a cautious start on Thursday following two days of rallies, as investors await the passage and details of a $2 trillion stimulus package in the United States to combat the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Senate leaders hope to vote on the plan later on Wednesday in Washington, but it still faces criticism. The bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for payments up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families.

It cannot come soon enough, with potentially enormous weekly U.S. initial jobless claims to appear in data due at 1230 GMT.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.5% in early trade – its third positive start in as many sessions, but also its most muted. Japan’s Nikkei fell 2.2%.

Hong Kong futures were 1% higher and China A50 futures were up 0.2%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.3%.

“There has been so much stimulus thrown at this,” said Jun Bei Liu, portfolio manager at Tribeca Investment Partners in Sydney.

“But the positivity related to it is really just sentiment,” she said, adding that investors were largely flying blind with so many companies withdrawing earnings guidance. Jobless figures may offer a “reality check,” she said.

In perhaps an early sign of the fragile mood, the risk-sensitive Australian dollar dropped 1% and the safe-haven Japanese yen rose in morning trade. [FRX/]

U.S. stock futures rose 1%, following the first back-to-back session rises on Wall Street in over a month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 2.4% and the S&P 500 1.2%, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped half a percent following a Nikkei report that Apple was weighing a delay in the launch of its 5G iPhone.

JOBLESS CLAIMS TO TEST BOUNCE

The money at stake in the stimulus bill amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

But it also comes against a backdrop of bad news as the coronavirus spreads and as jobless claims are set to soar, with both expected to test the nascent bounce in markets this week.

California Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters on Wednesday that a million Californians had already applied for jobless benefits this month – a number that knocked stocks from session highs and has analysts bracing for worse to come.

RBC Capital Markets economists had expected a national figure over 1 million in Thursday’s data, but say “it is now poised to be many multiples of that,” as reduced hours across the country drive deep layoffs.

“Something in the 5-10 million range for initial jobless claims is quite likely,” they wrote in a note.

That compares to a 695,000 peak in 1982. Forecasts in a Reuters poll range from a minimum of 250,000 initial claims, all the way up to 4 million.

Trepidation seemed to put a halt on the U.S. dollar’s recent softness in currency markets, with the dollar ahead 1% against the Antipodean currencies and up 0.6% against the pound.

It slipped 0.3% to 110.85 yen.

U.S. crude slipped 1.5% to $24.11 per barrel and gold steadied at $1,608.14 per ounce.

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