Asia shares jump but pandemic hangs heavy over outlook

NEW YORK/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian stocks bounced on Tuesday on hopes the coronavirus outbreak may be peaking, though sentiment was cautious ahead of Chinese trade data and corporate earnings as investors worried about a deep global recession.

Chinese shares started firm with the blue-chip index .CSI300 up 0.7%. Australian shares were up 0.6% while South Korea’s KOSPI index .KS11 and Japan’s Nikkei .N225 each gained 1.4%.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng .HSI rose 0.2%.

That left MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS up 0.6%.

E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 were modestly higher, up 0.2%.

All eyes will be on China’s trade data, which is expected to show exports tumbling 14% in March from a year ago, as the coronavirus shutters businesses around the world, crippling demand and economic growth.

Indeed, some analysts say any optimism over signs the outbreak may be peaking in hard-hit cities is quickly being offset by concerns that it may be a while before businesses recover.

“Signs of the outbreak peaking – or at least slowing in some regions – have started to turn the talk to when restrictions on activity can be eased,” analysts at JPMorgan said in a note.

“Short of the unlikely near-term event of a vaccine or significant herd immunity, restarting economies … may be challenging,” the analysts wrote.

Wall Street indexes ended mixed on Monday with the Dow and S&P 500 falling while a 6.2% gain in Amazon shares helped the Nasdaq end higher.

In Asia, an expected trade slump in China will reinforce views that the world is headed for a global recession this year, despite an unprecedented burst of stimulus from policymakers in the last two months to shore up growth.

Many analysts already expect China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, to have contracted sharply in the March quarter for the first time since at least 1992. China reports its first-quarter gross domestic product data on April 17.

A weak report could see China boost monetary and fiscal stimulus in a bid to reflate its economy.

“If we see greater signs that China is vigorously supporting domestic economic activity, then the global industrial cycle will recover with great alacrity in the second half of 2020,” Montreal-based BCA Research wrote in a note on Monday.

“This will be positive for commodities, especially industrial metals, but it will hurt the U.S. dollar and push yields higher,” it added.

“It would also arrest the stimulus-driven outperformance of U.S. equities, due to their low exposure to industrials, materials and financials.”

Elsewhere, Britain’s finance minister told colleagues the UK economy could shrink by up to 30% this quarter due to the coronavirus lockdown that has shuttered businesses.

In another sign of worries about struggling global demand, oil prices barely reacted to a global deal to cut output by a record amount of nearly 10% of world supply. U.S. crude CLc1 was up just 35 cents at $22.8, well under its January peak of $63.27.

Brent crude LCOc1 gained 49 cents to $32.23 a barrel.

A skittish market helped gold prices XAU= cling to highs not seen in more than seven years at $1,715.6 an ounce.

In the United States, which has recorded the highest number of casualties from the virus in the world, President Donald Trump said on Monday his administration was close to completing a plan to re-open the U.S. economy. However, some state governors have signalled that the decision on when to restart businesses lay with them.

The dollar continued to extend losses on the back of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s massive new lending programme. The greenback was a touch weaker against the Japanese yen JPY= at 107.62. The euro EUR= was up a touch at $1.0923. The risk-sensitive Australian dollar AUD=D3 jumped 0.5% to $0.6415.

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