SYDNEY: Asian shares struggled for traction on Monday after two straight sessions of losses as investors grappled with sky-high valuations at a time when the global economy is in a coronavirus-induced recession while oil prices dropped sharply.
European stock futures started in the black with those for Eurostoxx 50 and Germany’s Dax up 0.9% while London’s FTSE futures rose 1%.
But the signal for Wall Street was gloomy — E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.5% and Nasdaq futures slid 1.3%, dragged lower by the exclusion of Tesla from a group of companies that were being added to the S&P 500.
US markets will be closed on Monday for the Labour Day holiday.
The mood across Asian markets was tentative.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was last flat after two straight days of losses toppled it from a 2.5-year peak last week.
China’s blue-chip index slipped 0.9% while shares of Hong Kong-listed Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) plunged to the lowest since June 16 on fears China’s largest chipmaker could be added to a US trade blacklist.
Data earlier on Monday showed Chinese imports fell 2.1% in August from a year earlier, confounding expectations for a 0.1% increase, in a sign of sluggish domestic demand. Exports jumped by a larger-than-expected 9.5%.
Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.5% with SoftBank coming under heavy selling following media reports it has spent at least US$4 billion buying call options on listed US technology stocks.
Australian shares, which had opened in the red, reversed losses to finish 0.2% higher, while South Korea added 0.55%.
World shares hit a record high last week as central bank stimulus drove asset valuations to heady levels.
The rally has since cooled as tech stocks sold off while worries over patchy economic recovery dogged investors.
Sharp sell-offs have recovered quickly in recent months though analysts expect further downside to this leg due to rising cross-asset volatility.
“Our risk indices have begun to turn from their euphoria highs,” financial services group Jefferies said.
“It is not unthinkable that global equities are set to churn in a range for a while as some of the orphan sectors/countries are refranchised while the richly valued sectors pause or unwind,” it added.
“On the balance of probabilities, last week’s correction has further room to go.”
Jefferies said it was switching its weighting on MSCI All World index to “tactically bearish” in the short term.
It noted that a gauge of volatility has nudged higher in the past three months alongside a steepening in the US 10-year to 5-year Treasury yield curve as well as the 30-year to 5-year curve.
“We wonder how much moves in both would upset the equity market,” Jefferies said.
Later this week, investors will look for data on U.S. inflation with both producer and consumer prices expected to remain mostly steady.
“With slack in the labour market and broader economy to remain for years, it’s hard to see where sustainably higher inflation will come from,” Brown Brothers Harriman said in a note.
“That said, the bottom line is that US rates will stay lower for longer. Full stop.”
In commodities, oil prices dropped more than US$1 a barrel, hitting their lowest since July, after Saudi Arabia made the deepest monthly price cuts for supply to Asia in five months.
Fading optimism about a recovery in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic also hung heavy. US crude fell 1.26% to US$39.19 a barrel. Brent crude skidded 1.29% to US$42.11.
Policy meetings at the Bank of Canada on Wednesday and the European Central Bank the following day were also on investors’ radar, with both expected to keep policy steady.
Action in the forex market was muted.
In currencies, the dollar was flat against the yen at 106.28 ahead of a heavy week of macroeconomic data with figures on household spending, current account and gross domestic product due on Tuesday.
The euro held at US$1.1834 while the British pound was 0.4% weaker at US$1.3224 ahead of a new round of Brexit talks with the European Union on Monday.