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February 17, 2021

Asian markets down on profit-taking


Wed, Feb 17, 2021
A representative image.

HONG KONG: Most markets fell in Asia on Wednesday, hit by profit-taking after a strong rally across the world in recent weeks, with investors worried valuations may have gone too far for now.

However, analysts said that while equities have room for a drop, the general view is that they will resume their strong upward march as vaccine rollouts, slowing infection rates and the easing of lockdowns allow economies to return to normal.

Focus is also on Washington, as US lawmakers try to push through Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package, the prospect of which has been a key driver of a months-long surge across global equities.

Bets that the vast spending splurge will give an extra boost to the world’s top economy -- and the prospect of business reopenings -- have also fired inflation expectations, sending US Treasury yields close to one-year highs.

That has led to concerns about rising borrowing costs, which market-watchers fear could staunch the recovery and hit consumer spending.

"The move up in yields has been driven by increasing inflationary concerns amid a rise in energy prices along with the prospect of a big US fiscal stimulus and the global recovery entering a more solid stage as vaccine rollouts lead to the reopening of economies," said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

Stephen Innes at Axi said in a note: "It’s difficult to tell if we have reached any significant inflection points, but it’s certainly starting to feel that the rip higher in US bond yields at least on the margins could be the match in the stimulus powder barrel.

"That being said it remains to be seen if any real drags will hinder the raging bull driving equity market sentiment these days."

- Prices ‘fairly frothy’ -

He added that traders remained confident the rescue package and Federal Reserve largesse -- as well as reassurances it will keep monetary policy loose -- will continue to lend massive support to markets.

After a mixed lead from Wall Street, Asian markets stuttered, having enjoyed a clear run higher so far this year.

Tokyo, Sydney, Singapore, Seoul, Mumbai, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila all fell, while Taipei and Wellington rose.

Hong Kong reversed an early sell-off to surge more than one percent in the afternoon -- to break 31,000 for the first time since June 2018 -- fuelled by huge interest from investors in mainland China, where markets are still closed for the Lunar New Year break.

"The market is fairly frothy here from a sentiment perspective," Liz Ann Sonders, at Charles Schwab & Co, told Bloomberg TV. "You have to put a move higher in yields that goes out of the comfort zone as a potential risk associated with that."

Still, the surge in yields indicates the outlook remains very upbeat.

"There’s a great deal of optimism in the air and that’s one of the biggest reasons we’ve seen this rise in interest rates in the US and globally," Tom di Galoma, at Seaport Global Holdings, said.

Oil prices dipped, having rallied more than 20 percent this year to 13-month highs, with added support coming from a big freeze in Texas that has hammered output in the key production state.

Bitcoin edged up slightly, having pulled back after topping $50,000 for the first time ever on Wednesday.

- Key figures around 0700 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 30,292.19 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.2 percent at 31,124.29

Shanghai - Composite: Closed for a holiday

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3886 from $1.3902 at 2150 GMT

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.2089 from $1.2105

Euro/pound: DOWN at 87.06 pence from 87.07 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.92 yen from 105.99 yen

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $63.54 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.2 percent at $60.14 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 31,522.75 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.1 at 6,748.86 (close)