Stocks limp toward U.S. debt denouement; Japan sparkles
SINGAPORE – Stocks were subdued on Friday, apart from standout gains in Japan, as an artificial intelligence rally took a breather and as time ticked out on high-stakes talks to avoid a U.S. debt default.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan drifted 0.3 percent higher in trade thinned by a holiday in Hong Kong. The index is down 1.6 percent on the week.
Japan’s Nikkei, by contrast, rose 0.7 percent and is riding momentum from foreign inflows and basking in the afterglow of revenue and production upgrades for U.S. chipmaker Nvidia that have set Japanese firms with exposure soaring.
The Nikkei is up 0.7 percent on the week, too, for a seventh weekly gain in row – its longest weekly winning streak in five years and one which has added some $460 billion to Japanese stocks.
May data on Friday showed inflation slowing to 3.3 percent in Tokyo, a decent proxy for the nation, which means it’s been comfortably above the Bank of Japan’s 2 percent target for a year now. The world’s third largest economy has struggled for decades to get meaningful and sustained rises in prices, profits and wages.
Inflation in Tokyo slows in May, but key gauge hits four-decade high
“The pandemic has brought with it an unprecedented string of inflation drivers for Japan,” said analysts at Nomura, who noted households are spending and have upgraded stock forecast ranges.
“These forces have brought about a tectonic shift in the price-setting behavior of Japanese companies, and thus an improvement in their profit margins.”
A weak yen has also been helping flatter Japanese exporters’ accounts and though it crept to the stronger side of 140 per dollar on Friday it is down 1.4 percent this week as worry about a possible U.S. debt default has the dollar surging.
The dollar is up about 0.7 percent on the euro for the week and last traded at $1.0730 on the common currency. The U.S. dollar index touched a three-month high of 104.31 overnight and was last at 104.16, up 0.9 percent on the week.
U.S. President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy are closing in on a deal to raise the United States government’s $31.4-trillion debt ceiling for two years, a U.S. official told Reuters, but time is running short.
Biden, McCarthy appear near to deal on US debt ceiling as default looms
The U.S. Treasury estimates it’ll run out of funds within a week and legislating any deal will take that down to the wire.
Prices for Treasury bills maturing on the so-called X-date of June 1 recovered overnight with hopes for a breakthrough, while the rest of the curve was under pressure as investors have also been worrying U.S. rates will go higher.
Two-year yields hit a 2-1/2 month high of 4.552 percent in Asia on Friday, up 24 basis points on the week.
The New Zealand dollar has been a big loser on the week, diving 3 percent to test 60 cents as nerves about higher U.S. rates have come together with New Zealand’s central bank all but calling time on rate hikes at its meeting on Wednesday.
The kiwi was last at $0.6077.
China’s yuan has been the other notable casualty and has slid along with Chinese stocks as the shine comes off expectations of a booming post-pandemic recovery.
The yuan is down three week in a row and has lost about 0.8 percent this week to touch troughs not seen since China remained in the grip of COVID lockdowns late last year. It was last at 7.0679 to the dollar.
“The U.S. debt issues are not the only ‘ceiling’ that we are dealing with, as a slowdown in Chinese economic data suggests that a ceiling for growth may be forming as well,” said RBC technical strategist George Davis.
“This is exhibited by a not only a decline in Chinese stocks and (the yuan), but also through a selloff in copper and iron ore.”
Shanghai copper hit a six-month low on Thursday and is down about 2.5 percent on the week. Singapore iron ore is down about 3 percent on the week. Brent crude futures have been steady around $76 a barrel. Spot gold is at $1,947 an ounce.
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