Asia shares turn lower as recovery concerns resurface

SHANGHAI/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian shares stumbled lower in afternoon trade on Friday, reversing earlier gains as rising COVID-19 cases in China reinforced investor concerns over the prospects for a global economic recovery.

FILE PHOTO: A man rides a bicycle past a screen displaying Nikkei share average and stock indexes outside a brokerage, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

European bourses were set to open lower. Pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures dropped 0.66% in early trade, while German DAX futures lost 0.65% and FTSE futures dipped 0.35%.

Earlier on Friday, an Asian regional share index had edged near record highs after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden proposed a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan to jump-start the world’s largest economy and accelerate its response to COVID-19.

In prime-time remarks, Biden outlined a proposal that includes $415 billion aimed at the COVID-19 response, some $1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $440 billion for small businesses and communities hard hit by the pandemic.

But that initial boost faded by the afternoon as risk appetite waned, lifting bond prices and the dollar, and hitting regional equities.

“When you get to these lofty levels, what does it need to take (the market) higher again?” said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at Axi.

“Ultimately, the market has excelled itself. I’m not saying it’s gotten too far over its skis, I don’t think it has, but I think the expectations for economic repricing are quite dramatic … (we’re) back again to the lack of economic conviction.”

Global stocks had initially firmed on Thursday on a report that the stimulus package could be as big as $2 trillion, much more than markets were expecting.

Biden’s comments came after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a dovish tone in comments at a virtual symposium with Princeton University.

Powell said the U.S. central bank is not raising interest rates anytime soon and rejected suggestions the Fed might start reducing its bond purchases in the near term.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was last down 0.59%.

Chinese blue-chips shed 0.97% amid worries over rising COVID-19 cases in China, and after the Chinese central bank drained liquidity from the country’s banking system, suggesting a tightening bias in monetary policy.

More than 28 million people are under lockdown in China. On Friday it reported the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in more than 10 months.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.29% and Australia’s ASX 200 was flat, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.65% after touching three-decade highs in the previous session.

The falls in Asia echoed a late dip on Wall Street on Thursday. While U.S. stocks spent most of the trading session in positive territory, helped by the stimulus hopes, concerns over the cost of the package led to a modest decline toward the end of Wall Street trade.

S&P 500 e-mini futures shed 0.61% to 3,768.

“The concern is what it’s going to mean from a tax stand point,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment strategist at Inverness Counsel in New York.

“Spending is easy to do but the question is how are you going to pay for it? Markets often ignore politics but they don’t often ignore taxes.”

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.22%, the S&P 500 lost 0.38%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.12%.

On Friday, earnings season will kick into full swing with results from JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. Investors will be looking to see if banks are starting to take down credit reserves, resume buybacks, and provide guidance that shows the economy is improving, said Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar was flat against the yen at 103.79 and the dollar index edged 0.1% higher to 90.35.

The euro fell 0.16% to $1.2136.

U.S. yields stepped back as risk appetite waned. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes yielded 1.1005%, down from a U.S. close of 1.129% on Thursday, while the 30-year yield dipped to 1.8409% from 1.874%.

Oil prices, which had risen on a weak dollar and strong Chinese import data, dropped as COVID-19 concerns in China hit sentiment.

Brent crude oil futures fell 0.83%, to $55.95 a barrel while U.S. crude lost 0.54% to $53.28.

Spot gold rose 0.11% to $1,848.36 per ounce.

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