April 29, 2019
By Andrew Galbraith
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian stock markets edged up on Monday after surprising strong U.S. first-quarter economic growth boosted the S&P 500 index to a record high, but gains were capped by caution over less upbeat aspects in the GDP report which pointed to some weakening ahead.
Investors were also awaiting a meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve this week and Chinese factory data for further clues on policy direction in the world’s biggest economies.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up less than 0.1 percent, edging higher after posting its biggest weekly drop in more than a month last week.
Australian shares were down 0.26 percent, while Seoul’s KOSPI was up 0.4 percent.
Japan’s financial markets are closed for a long national holiday this week, but Nikkei 225 futures in Singapore were 0.72 percent higher.
In contrast with weakness in Asian markets last week, Wall Street ended Friday on a high note following data showing U.S. gross domestic product grew at a faster 3.2 percent annualized rate in the first quarter.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.31 percent to 26,543.33 and the Nasdaq Composite added or 0.34 percent to 8,146.40.
The S&P 500 gained 0.47 percent to 2,939.88, its second record closing high for the week.
Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management, said that despite stronger-than-expected earnings helping to lift markets, he sees “overly extended” S&P positioning.
“We have flipped from a state where it is a stock rally no one wants to take part in, to a frenzied paced splurge where hedge funds and investors alike continue to chase markets like greyhounds to the mechanical rabbit,” he said in a note.
While the strong GDP data helped to ease fears of an imminent recession, investors noted that it was driven by a smaller trade deficit and a large accumulation of unsold merchandise, as consumer and business spending slowed sharply.
In a morning note to clients, analysts at National Australian said the strong GDP has a “soft underbelly”, noting weak inflation.
“It is the thought that a downturn in inflation could have the Fed cutting rates before 2019 is out – at a time when the Fed is openly discussing wanting to tolerate a period of above target inflation to make up for past shortfalls – that had the interest rate markets moving the implied probability of a 2019 easing out,” they said.
The March reading for core personal consumption expenditures (PCE), the Fed’s favored inflation measure, is due later on Monday. The central bank will announce its policy decision on Wednesday, with Chairman Jerome Powell expected to balance the strong growth data against persistent concerns over the outlook for global growth.
Markets will also be looking to global factory activity surveys this week, particularly official and private readings on Chinese manufacturing which will both be released Tuesday.
While better-than-expected March data from China have helped eased fears of a sharp global slowdown, it has also touched off an intense debate over how much more stimulus Beijing can roll out without risking a rapid build-up in debt and potential asset bubbles.
In currency markets, the dollar was flat against the yen at 111.61. The euro was also barely changed, rising 0.02 percent to $1.1150.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, inched higher to 98.033.
U.S. crude dipped 0.7 percent at $62.86 a barrel, continuing lower after U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday pressured the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise crude production to ease gasoline prices.
Brent crude fell to $71.6 per barrel.
Spot gold was slightly lower, trading at $1,285.29 per ounce.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)