Asia shares edge ahead, eyes on BOJ easing

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares inched higher on Monday ahead of a busy week for earnings and central bank meetings, with much chatter the Bank of Japan (BOJ) will announce more stimulus steps.

FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks near an overpass with an electronic board showing stock information, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai, China March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.1% in early trade, having shed 2.6% last week. Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.1%, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 dipped 0.4%.

There is considerable speculation the BOJ will pledge to buy unlimited amounts of government bonds, removing the current target of 80 trillion yen per year, even though it has not been near reaching it.

It is also expected to raise purchases of corporate and commercial debt, and perhaps launch a new loan programme to help companies struggling with cash flow.

The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank meet later in the week, with the latter likely to do more.

“For the Fed, no further developments on QE or interest rates are expected, but we expect it to underline that its policies will be in place indefinitely to support the economy,” wrote analysts at ANZ in a note.

“We expect the ECB to raise the size of its emergency bond buying package (PEPP) by around 500 billion euros to 1.250 trillion and to continue pressing for a sizeable fiscal stimulus.”

On the data front, the United States and European Union release GDP for the first quarter and the influential U.S. ISM survey on manufacturing.

Earnings season will be in full swing with around 173 companies in the S&P 500 reporting this week, including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Caterpillar, Ford, GE and Chevron.

Analysts expect a 15% decline in S&P 500 first-quarter earnings, with profits for the energy sector estimated to slump more than 60%, raising fears of debt defaults, layoffs and possible bankruptcies.

Bond markets remain well supported by the truly massive easing under way from major central banks, which have seen U.S. 10-year yields trade around 0.6% for a week or more.

The dollar has been generally bid thanks to its safe haven status as the world’s most liquid currency at times of stress, though moves have been relatively mild in recent weeks.

The dollar index touched a three-week high at 100.860 on Friday before easing back to 100.250 on Monday.

The euro was steady at $1.0816, having hit a one-month low of $1.0725 on Friday, while the dollar was flat on the yen at 107.44.

Gold held at $1,723 per ounce, after gaining 2.5% last week.

Oil prices looked set for another volatile week, having fallen in eight of the last nine weeks. U.S. crude even traded below zero last week as demand collapsed 30% due to the pandemic, leaving more oil than could be stored. [O/R]

Brent crude futures firmed 45 cents to $21.89 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell 52 cents to $16.42.

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