Asian equities set to gain as short-squeeze subsides; dollar eases

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian stocks were set to rise on Friday after U.S. shares rallied and the dollar eased overnight, as fears of social-media driven hedge fund selling abated and the U.S. earnings season got off to a strong start.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, stands in front of an electric board showing Nikkei index outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Concern about a hedge-fund rout that gripped the market on Wednesday eased after trading platforms Robinhood and Interactive Brokers restricted trading in GameStop, BlackBerry and other stocks that soared this week on speculative retail buying.

“There seems to be a concerted effort to rein in some of this speculative behavior,” said Kyle Rodda, market analyst at IG Markets in Melbourne.

In early Asian trade, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 benchmark was up 1.15%, Japan’s Nikkei futures rose 1.39% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures gained 1.47%.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.99%, the S&P 500 gained 0.98% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.5%.

Stocks in Europe closed little changed as countries grappled with new variants of the coronavirus amid extended lockdowns that may weigh on near-term economic growth. The broad FTSEurofirst 300 index added 0.01% to 1,554.45.

The dollar dipped as risk sentiment improved following fresh U.S. economic data showing jobless claims declined in the latest week and U.S. gross domestic product was not as bad as feared.

The U.S. economy contracted at its sharpest pace since WorldWar Two in 2020 as COVID-19 ravaged restaurants and airlines, throwing millions of Americans out of work and into poverty. But GDP grew at a 4% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, in line with economists’ forecasts.

The data “straddled a healthy middle ground that showed the U.S. economy continuing to recover” while not yet strong enough to undercut the need for another large fiscal stimulus, Rodda said.

The dollar index was down 0.156%, with the euro unchanged at $1.2121 in early Asian trading.

The greenback had been boosted earlier in the week by safe-haven buying on concerns that U.S. fiscal stimulus will be smaller than hoped and that COVID-19 will continue to spread as countries struggle to roll out vaccines.

The U.S. currency has rebounded from three-year lows touched earlier this month and the dollar index is up 0.50% this month after falling 6.75% last year.

But there were still concerns about fragile economies putting pressure on overall high valuations. Stricter vaccine checks by the European Union and delivery hold-ups from AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer Inc have slowed the rollout of shots.

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