Stocks and oil soar, dollar sinks as stimulus beckons

SINGAPORE: Stocks scaled record heights, the dollar plumbed two-year lows and oil prices hit their strongest since March on Thursday, as monetary support and the hope of fiscal stimulus in the United States put traders in a festive mood.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.4% to an all-time high. Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.3% to sit just shy of a 29-year peak.

December S&P 500 futures were one point short of a record top and, after the Nasdaq printed a record close on Wednesday, Nasdaq 100 futures climbed higher into uncharted territory on Thursday. European futures rose.

The euro and currencies from the Asia and the Antipodes to Scandinavia hit multi-year highs. The dollar index fell to a two-year low.

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Brent crude oil futures, a proxy for global energy consumption and growth, rose nearly 1% to $51.54 a barrel, the highest level since early March – before over-production fears and virus worries pushed oil prices off a cliff.

“My suspicion is markets are inclined to extend this rally for two reasons,” said Vishnu Varathan, head economist at Mizuho in Singapore, citing U.S. monetary policy support and the good news on the horizon as vaccines roll out globally.

“If new infection numbers don’t go crazy…I think there is some scope for a so-called Santa rally into the end of the year,” he said. “That’s what markets appear to be poised for.”

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell vowed on Wednesday to keep pouring cash in to markets until the U.S. economic recovery is secure.

Bond traders were disappointed he didn’t extend the Fed’s purchase program deeper down the yield curve, and U.S. Treasuries sold off at longer tenors, but everybody else took it as a signal that the bank will have their back.

“The message was clear – the Fed is willing and capable of doing more if needed,” said Kerry Craig, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management in Melbourne.

“The meeting also made clear that rates are highly unlikely to move until bond purchases come to an end. This means the market focus turns to the prospect of a pre-Christmas fiscal package from Congress.”

CHRISTMAS PACKAGE

U.S. lawmakers edged closer to agreement on a $900 billion virus-relief spending package on Wednesday with top Democrats and Republicans sounding more positive than they have in months about getting something done.

The proposal is expected to include $600-$700 stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits and cannot come soon enough as U.S. COVID-19 infections soar to record levels.

“The market is buying it and the mood music from (Republican Senate leader Mitch) McConnell and others is good,” said Gavin Friend, senior market strategist at National Australia Bank, while adding the package likely to wind up relatively modest.

Elsewhere better-than-expected labour data in Australia pushed the Aussie as high as $0.7593, its strongest since mid 2018.

The Aussie is also riding high on surging prices for iron ore and a mood that has pushed currencies in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Sweden and Norway to milestone peaks.

The kiwi rose to its strongest since early 2018 after New Zealand’s economic growth beat expectations.

U.S. Treasuries steadied with the yield on benchmark ten-year government bonds flat at 0.9246%.

Asia’s outlier was South Korea, where a record daily rise in coronavirus cases pushed the Kospi a tiny bit lower.

Cryptocurrency bitcoin extended gains after breaking past $20,000 overnight. It rose 4% to $22,318.

Investors are attracted by its momentum – it is up 200% this year – and its purported resistance to inflation because of its limited supply.

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