Asian markets track Wall St surge but virus, inflation linger

HONG KONG,  China (AFP) — Asian markets rose Tuesday following a strong lead from yet another record on Wall Street that was fuelled by easing concerns about Omicron and remaining optimism about the economic recovery.

While the new Covid variant is spreading like wildfire around the world, it appears to be far less severe than initially feared, raising hopes that the pandemic could be overcome and life return to a little more normality.

However, inflation, supply chain snags, central bank policy tightening and geopolitical woes continue to weigh on sentiment and analysts have warned that the blockbuster gains seen in recent years could be tougher to attain.

“We expect 2022 to be far more challenging from an investment perspective,” Heather Wald, of Bel Air Investment Advisors, noted. “Rarely has a market delivered three consecutive years of double-digit returns, as we have seen from 2019-2021.”

Still, she expected “equities to remain attractive versus other liquid asset classes”.

And market strategist Louis Navellier added: “Equities are still the only game in town, with cash and bonds offering negative real returns, and equities forecasted with double-digit earnings growth and record stock buybacks anticipated.”

The Dow and S&P 500 started the new year in the same fashion as they spent most of 2021, by notching up new all-time highs, while the Nasdaq also rallied thanks to a surge in big-name stars including Apple, which briefly became the first firm valued at $3 trillion, and Tesla.

Most of Asia followed suit.

Sydney piled on two percent and Tokyo was up almost as much, while Singapore and Taipei were also up more than one percent.

There were also gains in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Bangkok and Jakarta, while Shanghai dipped and Seoul was flat.

London opened more than one percent higher at the start of its first day of the year, while Paris and Frankfurt also rose.

Trading in Manila was cancelled when a system glitch struck less than an hour after the start.

Shares in embattled Chinese property giant Evergrande rose in Hong Kong after a day-long suspension, as the company confirmed it had been ordered to demolish part of a resort in Hainan province but would work to resolve the issue.

Investors will keep a close eye on the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December policy meeting hoping for some insight into its plans this year in light of surging inflation, which is forcing central banks around the world to wind back their pandemic stimulus.

The Fed has already started tapering its bond-buying programme and the focus is now on what it will do with interest rates, with some commentators predicting three hikes before 2023.

Anticipation that rates will rise lifted the yield on the 10-year US Treasury note above 1.6 percent Monday, though analysts said that could also reflect an upbeat view on the economic outlook.

Bets on US borrowing costs rising this year and expectations Japan’s central bank will stick to its ultra-low rate have pushed the dollar to levels not seen since late 2017.

And strategist Navellier remained positive.

“We’ve climbed bigger walls of worry than we face today,” he said. “I am expecting a very strong January, characterised by higher trading volume as well as stunning fourth-quarter sales and earnings announcements.

“Interestingly, thanks to political gridlock, the private sector is expected to dominate GDP growth in 2022. Inflation is expected to persist, but may moderate somewhat in the second half of 2022.

“In my opinion, the Fed will remain accommodative in 2022 and the Goldilocks environment will continue.”

– Key figures around 0820 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 1.8 percent at 29,301.79 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: UP 0.1 percent at 23,289.84 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,632.33 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.1 percent at 7,463.49

Dollar/yen: UP at 115.73 yen from 115.47 yen late Monday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1299 from $1.1302

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3497 from $1.3480

Euro/pound: DOWN at 83.72 pence from 83.82

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $75.99 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.1 percent at $78.92 per barrel

New York – DOW: UP 0.7 percent at 36,585.06 (close)

© Agence France-Presse