Asian markets cautiously await US stimulus, jobs

ASIAN stock markets were poised for a cautious start today following two days of rallies, as investors await the passage and details of a US$2 tri stimulus package in the United States to address the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Senators are set to vote on the plan later in Washington. The bill includes a US$500 bil fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to US$3,000 each to millions of US families.

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

Markets in Australia and New Zealand began in the green, with the NZ50 up 3% and the S&P/ASX 200 up 2%.

Nikkei futures last traded 2% below the index’s cash close. Hong Kong futures were 1% higher and China A50 futures were up 0.2%.

“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/]

US stock futures traded slightly negative, following the first back-to-back session rises on Wall Street in over a month.

The Dow Jones Inudstrial 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 US$4.7 tri the US 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 set to test the nascent bounce in markets this week.

California Governor Gavin Newsom told reporters yesterday 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 one million in today’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 four 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.

US crude slipped 1.5% to US$24.11 per barrel and gold steadied at US$1,608.14 per ounce. – March 26, 2020, Reuters

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