Global Markets: Asia shares eke out another peak, pound fears Brexit redux

Reuters Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Dec 18, 2019, 11.25 AM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Asian stocks camped out at 18-month peaks on Wednesday having climbed for five straight sessions, while the British pound was licking fresh wounds as revived Brexit fears came back to bite it.

Asian stocks camped out at 18-month peaks on Wednesday having climbed for five straight sessions, while the British pound was licking fresh wounds as revived Brexit fears came back to bite it.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan inched up 0.1 per cent to its highest since June last year. Japan's Nikkei dipped 0.3 per cent and off a 2019 top.

Shanghai blue chips added 0.3 per cent, after hitting an eight-month peak on Tuesday, as Beijing trimmed another short-term interest rate.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 were little changed, while EUROSTOXX 50 futures fell 0.1 per cent.

Upbeat economic news had helped the S&P 500 reach a record for the fourth straight session, building on its 27 per cent gain this year. The Dow ended Tuesday up 0.19 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.07 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.11 per cent.

U.S. housing starts were surprisingly strong in November, and building permits rose to the highest level since May 2007. Manufacturing output picked up more than expected as a strike at General Motors Co ended.

A run of better data recently has helped calm fears of recession while the "phase one" Sino-US deal on trade seems to have lifted some of the uncertainty on the global outlook.

The sea change was clear in BofA Global Research's latest survey of fund managers with recession concerns diving 33 per cent points to a net 68 per cent of investors saying a recession is now unlikely in 2020.

Global growth expectations jumped 22 per cent points, marking the biggest 2-month rise on record. As a result, funds' allocation to global equities climbed 10 per cent points to a net 31 per cent overweight, the highest level in a year.

Yet it might be too soon to declare an all-clear on the political front with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson upsetting markets by taking a hard line on Brexit talks.

Johnson will use the prospect of a Brexit cliff-edge at the end of 2020 to demand the EU give him a comprehensive free trade deal in less than 11 months.

The threat of a hard exit sent shivers through sterling, which slid 1.5 per cent in its largest one-day fall this year.

The pound was down another 0.4 per cent on Wednesday at $1.3075 having shed all the gains made during the Conservative Party's big election win.

"Johnson's move aimed at cancelling the possibility of an extension, has essentially increase the possibility of a no deal Brexit," said Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at NAB.

"It suggests sterling's path in 2020 looks set to be a volatile one, a hard Brexit cannot be ruled out, but the probability of a positive Brexit resolution has also increased."

Sterling's slide gave the dollar index a lift to 97.243 against a basket of currencies, extending a bounce from last week's five-month low of 96.588.

The euro also surged on the pound and was steady on the dollar at $1.1140. The yen was little changed at 109.46 per dollar.

Spot gold idled at $1,475.24 per ounce, after a couple of very quiet sessions.

Oil prices eased from three-month highs as data showed US crude stocks rose unexpectedly in the most recent week.

US crude fell 38 cents to $60.56 a barrel, while Brent crude futures lost 29 cents to $65.81.