Business / Financial Markets

Traders see end to 'feverish fear-mongering' after stocks surge

Bloomberg, Reuters

Some Asia equity traders have greeted U.S. stocks’ best rally since 2009 — and subsequent strong gains in Japanese shares — with the conviction that this is more a turning point than a dead cat bounce.

The Topix index surged 4.9 percent and the Nikkei 225 stock average jumped 3.88 percent on Thursday, following an almost 5 percent advance in the S&P 500 Index. Market observers pointed to economic conditions in the U.S., which they say don’t justify the December equities rout. Any doubts about the health of the American economy were called into question during the Asian night, when Amazon.com Inc. surged 9.5 percent after reporting record holiday sales.

“The recovery should put to rest the feverish fear-mongering that had investors believing the investment world as we know it was coming to an end,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at Oanda Corp. “The fear mongering and doom-and-gloom prophecies were not based on current U.S. economic fundamentals,” he said. “There’s a lot of money parked on the sidelines. So bargain hunters came back with a bang, but it’s a stark reminder never to underestimate the purchasing power of the U.S. consumer.”

While Asia-based traders were sleeping, some potentially positive news also emerged on the trade war front. A U.S. government delegation will travel to Beijing in the week of Jan. 7 to hold trade talks with Chinese officials, two people familiar with the matter said, in the first face-to-face discussion the two sides have held since President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping agreed on a 90-day truce in Argentina this month.

Kiyoshi Ishigane, chief strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, says he’s watching those developments and Federal Reserve officials’ speeches for hints about any potential changes in monetary policy. But like Innes at Oanda, he’s taking a positive view on the rebound.

“There will be ups and downs, but I think buying could persist for two to three weeks,” he said. “What happens with the U.S.-China trade issue will be something to keep an eye on,” Ishigane said.

Jim McCafferty, the head of equity research for Asia ex-Japan at Nomura Holdings Inc., said: “This spike demonstrates that much of the short-term market moves appear irrational.

“The volatility of markets is inevitably caused by the prevalence of active-quant strategies. This gives an opportunity for the rational active investor who believes in company fundamentals.”

But some say the stocks are not yet on a rebound track.

“Stocks fell too much until now,” said Kazuyuki Terao, chief investment officer for the Japan arm of Allianz Global Investors. “The concern surrounding corporate earnings will linger quite a bit. I don’t think we’re entering a phase where stocks are set for a rebound track from here. There’s quite a bit of concern surrounding cyclical sectors like technology companies and machinery” for both the U.S. and Japan.

There was no single trigger for the overnight relief rally on Wall Street, though a Mastercard Inc. report that sales during the 2018 U.S. holiday shopping season rose the most in six years helped allay concerns about the health of the U.S. economy

There were also some attempts by the White House to temper its broadside against the Federal Reserve. Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on Wednesday that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell’s job was not in jeopardy.

His comments came days after Trump described the Fed as the “only problem” in the U.S. economy, after the central bank last week raised rates for the fourth time this year and retained plans for more hikes in 2019.

A U.S. government shutdown, concerns over slower global growth and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin convening a crisis group following the sharp sell-off in equities have also rattled investors.

“There is a question which is starting to unfold, whether this is a bear market rally or whether this is something more sustainable,” said Chris Weston, Melbourne-based head of research at foreign-exchange brokerage Pepperstone.

“We probably got another 3 to 5 percent in these market rallies before we see people looking to fade into this.”

Faced with deepening gloom, investors were quick to lap up the news that the U.S. trade team will travel to Beijing to hold talks with Chinese officials.

“Investors are aware of negative factors, but they aren’t paying attention to those. They are looking at the Dow’s $1,000 gain,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

“I think worries regarding the U.S. government shutdown as well as lack of clarity over whether the U.S.-Sino negotiations (over trade) will go well or not still remain.”

Not all signs were positive overnight, with the Fed’s Bank of Richmond’s manufacturing index giving investors a reminder of the underlying global risks. The index fell the most on record, Refinitiv data going back to 1994 showed.

The weak figures rekindled fears that Sino-U.S. trade tensions are weighing on U.S. producers, and came days before the release of the Chicago purchasing managers index at the end of the week.

Oil also caught investors’ attention, after U.S. crude and Brent overnight both marked their largest single-day rises since late November 2016.

U.S. crude on Wednesday rallied almost 8.7 percent, while Brent jumped more than 8.8 percent in a partial rebound from steep losses that pushed crude benchmarks to lows not seen since last year.

U.S. crude was last trading about half a percent lower at $45.99 a barrel, while Brent gave up 0.4 percent at $54.24 a barrel.

“If we can see oil prices moving up in the low end of the range, which is around $49 to $50, then we’ll continue to see equities moving higher,” said Pepperstone’s Weston.

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