Stocks rally on treatment hopes, currencies await ECB

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A woman walks past an electronic stock board showing Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo on Thursday. - AP
A woman walks past an electronic stock board showing Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo on Thursday. - AP

Singapore/Sydney - Asian shares advanced, riding a wave of optimism about a possible treatment for the coronavirus that set off a rally on Wall Street .

By Tom Westbrook and Swati Pandey

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Published: Thu 30 Apr 2020, 11:13 AM

Last updated: Thu 30 Apr 2020, 1:25 PM

Asian stocks rose to a seven-week high on Thursday, boosted by encouraging early results from a COVID-19 treatment trial, though bonds and currencies stuck to cautious ranges ahead of a European Central Bank meeting later in the day.
US and European stock futures gained throughout the session, with EuroSTOXX futures and FTSE futures last up more than 1per cent and S&P 500 futures up about 0.7per cent.
A 1.4 per cent rise in MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares, excluding Japan, has it tracking toward a weekly gain of more than 5 per cent, its best in three weeks. Optimism in equity markets was driven by positive partial results from a trial of Gilead's antiviral remdesivir, which showed the drug could help speed recovery from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
It was tempered in bond and currency markets, which marked time ahead of an ECB news conference due at 1330 GMT, where there is an increasing expectation it will expand a bond buying programme to better support banks amid a straining credit market.
"Our economists expect the ECB to announce a 500 billion euro expansion to the (bond buying) programme to serve as a backstop against increased fiscal issuance needs," said Goldman Sachs strategist Michael Cahill in a note.
"The path for the euro in the near-term will depend on the mix of measures introduced," he said, with targeted credit action likely to reduce domestic risks and offer support, while a "wait-and-see" stance from the bank could weigh on the currency.
Japan's Nikkei jumped 2.8 per cent to a seven-week high and Australia's ASX 200 rose 2.7 per cent, with the mood further supported by South Korea reporting no new domestic coronavirus cases for the first time since its Feb. 29 peak. More caution was evident in other asset classes, with the US dollar firm and US Treasuries steady.
"It's a hope-based rally rather than an evidence-based rally," said Anthony Doyle, cross-asset specialist at fund manager Fidelity International in Sydney. There are still worries about a second wave of infections, he said, adding that huge piles of cash waiting to go back into the markets suggest investor confidence remains subdued.
Markets have been excited by the prospect of a Covid-19 treatment because it may help economies emerge from lockdowns. Partial results from a 1,063-patient US government trial of Gilead's remdesivir were hailed as "highly significant" by the top US infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci. They showed hospitalised Covid-19 patients given the drug recovered in 11 days, compared to 15 days for patients given a placebo, and a slightly lower death rate. But since treatment hopes don't seem to take into account regulatory and distribution difficulties, should a treatment be found, currency and bond markets were more circumspect.
"Any positive medical development is helpful," said Westpac FX analyst Sean Callow. "But no-one should be counting on a major breakthrough - the key for markets is control of the spread of the virus."
The yield on benchmark US 10-year Treasuries stayed parked at 0.6140 per cent, after the US Federal Reserve left interest rates near zero and gave no indication of lifting them any time soon.
The US dollar held its ground against the resurgent Australian dollar for the first time in a week and rose a little against the euro to $1.0862. Gold was steady at $1,710.86 per ounce. Brent crude and US crude futures each rose about $2 a barrel amid optimism that a storage squeeze is not as bad as first feared, and that demand for fuel may soon return. - Reuters

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