Asia stocks mixed, US dollar pushes higher

  • 20/07/2015

Asian stocks have finished mixed, with Sydney and Shanghai rising as concerns eased over Greece and China's recent market rout.

The US dollar pushed higher on Monday, on expectations of a US interest rate rise by the end of the year.

Shanghai led the gains but was undergoing some fresh volatility as more firms traded again after being suspended at the height of the latest stock crisis that wiped billions off valuations.

The price of gold tumbled to a five-year low as the likelihood of a US rate rise prompted investors to abandon it in search of better returns.

Shanghai ended 0.88 percent higher, advancing 34.76 points, to 3,992.11, while Sydney added 0.30 percent, or 16.00 points, to close at 5,686.90.

Hong Kong was flat, edging down 10.46 points to 25,404.81, while Seoul closed 0.17 percent lower, giving up 3.48 points to 2,073.31.

Tokyo and Jakarta were closed for public holidays.

Analysts said investors are now beginning to refocus on macroeconomic data after the past few months were dominated by the Greek debt crisis and a more than 30 percent plunge in Chinese stocks.

Last week Greece agreed to a swathe of new austerity measures in exchange for much-needed cash that will keep it in the eurozone for now.

"This soft tone to this morning's market opening indicates that investors have finished the process of unwinding the risk premium built into valuations as a defence against any unforeseen complications from a 'Grexit'," said CMC Markets' chief analyst Ric Spooner.

While Greece's banks reopened Monday after a three-week shutdown, capital controls will remain largely in place and citizens also face widespread price rises.

Eyes are now on Washington as the Federal Reserve considers when to raise interest rates from record lows as the US economy gets back up to speed. Last week Fed chief Janet Yellen said she saw a rise taking place before 2016.

"The US dollar is firm. Grexit worries have subsided," DBS Bank said in a commentary.

"Focus returned to monetary policy divergences. Europe and Japan are set to keep their quantitative easing programs running well into 2016. The US is, on the other hand, looking to hike rates and normalise monetary policy," it added.

The central banks of Japan and Europe are spending hundreds of billions of US dollars on bonds to support their respective economies, pushing down the value of the yen and euro.

The US dollar bought Y124.15 in Asia on Monday compared with Y124.09 in New York.

The euro fetched US$1.0868 against $US1.0830, while it was also at Y134.84 from Y134.38.

US shares provided a healthy lead on Friday, with the Nasdaq jumping 0.91 percent to a new record while the S&P 500 added 0.11 percent, although the Dow dropped 0.19 percent.

Chinese shares continued to advance on Monday following a more than seven percent rise over the previous two weeks after Beijing introduced a series of measures to prevent a market meltdown.

Stocks had slumped for almost four weeks after hitting a high on June 12.

However, equities Monday moved in and out of positive territory as profit-takers alternated with traders looking to get back into the market.

Wu Kan, a Shanghai-based fund manager at Dragon Life Insurance Co, told Bloomberg News: "It looks like the rebound has legs as confidence has partially recovered."

On oil markets, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for August delivery fell 26 US cents to US$50.63 and Brent crude for September dipped 20 US cents to US$56.90 a barrel in afternoon trade.

Gold fell to as low as US$1,105.80 - its lowest since March 2010 - before recovering slightly to US$1,116.76 but still down from US$1,144.18 late Friday as the Fed nears its rate rise.

The yellow metal, which is considered a safe asset in times of uncertainty, has steadily been falling as the US economy shows signs of recovery in recent months.

"Any increase in US interest rates should further strengthen the dollar, prompting more fund outflows from commodities, metals and emerging market assets," said Vattana Vongseenin, the chief executive officer of Phillip Asset Management Co in Bangkok.