Asian Stocks Fall As COVID-19, US Election Concerns Dampen Investor Sentiment

MSCI's ex-Japan Asia index dipped 0.15 per cent in early trade while Japan's Nikkei fell 0.6 per cent.

Asian Stocks Fall As COVID-19, US Election Concerns Dampen Investor Sentiment

Uncertainty over next week's US elections added to a "risk off" tone

Tokyo:

Global shares slipped on Wednesday as coronavirus infections grew at an alarming pace in the United States and Europe, while uncertainty over next week's US elections added to a "risk off" tone.

MSCI's ex-Japan Asia index dipped 0.15 per cent in early trade while Japan's Nikkei fell 0.6 per cent.

Futures for US S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq all fell 0.5-0.6 per cent in Asian trade on Wednesday, rattled by a media report that French government may bring in a national lockdown from midnight on Thursday.

The US, Russia, France and other countries have registered record numbers of infections in recent days, and European governments have introduced new curbs to try to rein in the fast-growing outbreaks.

Data on Tuesday showed US consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in October, although other economic figures were mostly positive, with orders for key capital goods hitting a six-year high.

The fall in US stock futures came after a mixed session on Wall Street, where the S&P 500 lost 0.30 per cent on coronavirus worries while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.64 per cent.

Microsoft kicked off a slate of reporting from tech heavyweights by beating Wall Street estimates for quarterly revenue, buoyed by its flagship cloud computing business amid increased work-from-home arrangements. But its shares slipped 1.7 per cent after the bell.

Apple Inc, Amazon.com and Google-parent Alphabet are among major tech players reporting later this week.

Memory Of 2016

Investors appeared content to steer clear of risk with looming uncertainty, headlined by the November 3 US presidential election.

As former Vice President Joe Biden has enjoyed a consistent lead over President Donald Trump, investors have been cautiously betting on his victory and possibly a "blue wave" outcome, where Democrats take back the Senate as well.

Still the presidential race is closer in battleground states that could determine the outcome, leaving investors on edge.

"It appears the gap between Biden and Trump is shrinking a bit lately. In particular, Biden's lead in swing states doesn't look that different from (Democratic candidate) Hilary Clinton's in 2016," said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, market strategist at Mizuho Securities.

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"People still remember the 2016 experience and those who have bet on a blue wave are probably taking some profits now ahead of the event," he added.

Wall Street's volatility index, a measure of market expectations in share price swings, rose to 33.35, its highest in almost two months.

Some market players see that as a sign more investors are wary of the possibility that the election outcome can be contested, possibly leaving markets in limbo for weeks.

That would likely further delay any negotiation on economic relief package US policymakers have been struggling to agree on. Trump acknowledged an economic relief package would likely come after the November 3 election.

In the currency market, the euro edged lower on concerns about a possible lockdown in France, trading at $1.1779, down 0.15 per cent.

The safe-haven yen is well supported at 104.42 yen per dollar, not far from its six-month high of 104 touched last month.

Investors also bought back US Treasuries, another safe-haven asset, pushing down their yields.

The benchmark 10-year yield dropped to 0.766 per cent, down 1.2 basis point so far on Wednesday and way below its four-and-a-half-month high of 0.872 per cent hit on Friday.

Gold was little changed at $1,906.0 per ounce.

Oil prices gave up much of their gains made the previous day as a jump in US crude inventories and surging COVID-19 cases raised fears of an oversupply of oil and weak fuel demand.

By 7:35 am, Brent crude was trading down 1.9 per cent at $40.42 a barrel, while US crude fell 2.3 per cent to $38.67 per barrel.