Asia stocks struggle even as China slashes rates

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 8:04 PM

By Tom Westbrook

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian shares were pinned below 1-1/2 month highs on Tuesday as even a larger-than-expected interest rate cut in China failed to excite investors jaded at the lack of bigger stimulus measures.

China’s five-year loan prime rate was lowered by 25 basis points to 3.90%, bigger than the five to 15 bp cuts forecast by economists. The Shanghai Composite, however, fell 0.7% in early trade and blue chips fell 0.6%.

“It is a significant cut, showing policymakers are serious,” said OCBC foreign exchange strategist Christopher Wong, and ought to support currencies such as the Australian dollar.

“But it remains to be seen if it is sufficient to keep momentum sustained,” he said.

“Markets are still on the lookout for more fiscal support measures, in particular targeting consumption.”

The yuan was steady at 7.1972 per dollar. Elsewhere Japan’s Nikkei opened flat to stay below but close to topping its 1989 record high. [.T]

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.1%, pulling away from its highest level since January touched during Monday. South Korean shares fell 1%.

U.S. Treasury yields ticked up, as trade resumed following Monday’s U.S. holiday. S&P 500 futures were 0.2% lower.

Outside China global markets are smarting a little as traders have sharply scaled back bets on U.S. rate cuts following high readings on producer and consumer prices.

Economic indicators, on which this week is a little bit light, are likely to drive the next move.

“The markets started January expecting six cuts from the Fed and we are now pricing in just three,” said Bob Savage, head of markets strategy and insights at BNY Mellon.

“This puts the next leg of risk taking for the week back on the data with focus on consumer credit, consumer mood and jobs.”

Ten-year U.S. Treasury yields rose 1.4 basis points to 4.31%. Two-year yields were steady at 4.65%.

Tuesday moves in currency markets were fairly modest, with the dollar firm and pushing above 150 Japanese yen.

The New Zealand dollar paused a recent climb to steady at $0.6138 as traders weigh the risk of a surprise interest rate hike next week.

The Australian dollar edged 0.2% lower at $0.6529 though meeting minutes showed the central bank is not sure it’s finished with rate hikes yet.

Deals and earnings drove stock prices under the surface.

Capital One, a U.S. consumer lender, said it will acquire credit card issuer Discover Financial Services in an all-stock transaction valued at $35.3 billion, though prices didn’t immediately react with markets closed.

In Australia, ANZ Bank shares fell 3.5% and Suncorp shares rose nearly 6% after ANZ’s buyout of Suncorp’s banking business was cleared by the competition tribunal.

Casino operator Star Entertainment shares fell more than 20% to a record low after a second regulatory investigation into the company’s Sydney casino was announced.

BHP, the world’s biggest listed miner, logged flat half-year profits and shares slipped 0.2%.

Ahead there will be a wary eye on Nvidia’s earnings report on Wednesday as investors discover whether it can beat already lofty expectations.

Commodity markets were steady in the Asian morning with Brent crude futures down 0.1% to $83.45 a barrel. Gold held at $2,018 an ounce. Iron ore had slid in Singapore on Monday. Soft commodities start the week on the back foot after corn futures had touched a three-year low on Friday as U.S. inventories swelled and wheat made a 2-1/2 month low.

(Editing by Stephen Coates)