Monday, July 27, 2009

Asian Market Update: Nikkei breaks out to October highs despite poor Q1 results from shippers; Bernanke talks down inflation worries, concerned about labor market

Asian Market Update: Nikkei breaks out to October highs despite poor Q1 results from shippers; Bernanke talks down inflation worries, concerned about labor market

- Asian equity markets remained on the bullish track fuelled by continued outperformance of the tech sector across the regional bourses even as the Nikkei shipping names plunged after posting poor Q1 earnings and US Fed chairman cautioned about the ongoing weakness for US labor. Nikkei225 briefly rose to its best level since October above 10,170, gaining nearly 2.5% before retreating back to 10,100. Hang Seng and Kospi were also up over 1.5%, while S&P/ASX and the Taiex were both higher by 1% with about 2 hours to go in Tokyo trading. Ahead of the US Monday open, front-month S&Ps reversed early weakness to rally 0.2% to $980 and benchmark yields advanced by a tick to 3.67%.

- Fed Chairman Bernanke offered a town-hall interview with PBS, defending the Federal Reserve independence against the rising scrutiny of Congressional lawmakers and further justifying bailout of large financial institutions to the angered "main street" audience. Most significantly, Bernanke retained the dovish outlook displayed in his Congressional testimony last week, suggesting that emergency credit programs will be unwound only when there is certainty of economic recovery while offering expectation of low inflationary pressure over the next couple of years despite the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus. Fed chairman also tempered optimism over economic rebound translating into job creation, forecasting unemployment above 10% and also suggesting that 1H of 2010 may not mark the peak of jobless rate as widely believed. With regards to congressional movement to audit the Fed, Bernanke was steadfast in the institution maintaining its independence, noting that politicians should not make monetary policy decisions, with the most likely result to interference being higher inflation.

- Asian trading economic calendar was light but is expected to pick up in days to come, with housing data from Australia and RBNZ decision marking the key events of the week. Japan June Corporate Service Price index registered its biggest decline on record at -3.2% y/y, slightly better than the -3.3% expected. South Korea's Consumer Confidence came in at 7-year high of 109.0, while UK's July Hometrack housing survey saw its best y/y level in 9 months at -7.7%. Over in China, Xinhua press quoted Stats Bureau economist Yao urging policymakers to maintain accommodative stance on monetary and fiscal front - comments in line with recent sentiment suggesting the momentum of economic recovery may not be sufficiently stable.

- In equities, Japan's financials closely tracked the market-leading tech sector after Nikkei press said Nomura, Nikko Cordial, and Daiwa Securities will post a profit in the first quarter because of rising revenues from banks' underwriting business. In other gainers, Fuji Heavy was lifted by over 5% after a JP Morgan upgrade, and Hitachi gained over 5.5% after announcing it would make its separately listed group firms publicly listed. Among notable decliners, Nikkei's shipping names Mitsui OSK, Nippon Yusen, and Kawasaki Kisen reported poor results across the board, dropping sharply after mid-day recess to overall session declines of 3-5%. Elsewhere, Sumitomo Chemical fell 5% even though the company said it was not the source of press speculation on Friday that operating profit may fall 90% y/y to ¥1B. Mitsubishi Motors also refuted press rumor it would post a ¥20B operating loss on 50% drop in sales to ¥300B. Outside the Nikkei, shares of Virgin Blue were halted on announcement it would raise A$231M in new equity. The airline also forecast poor outlook for the current and next year, with FY09 Net loss seen at A$160-A$165M v loss A$19.2M expected and 2010 net at breakeven v a profit of A$28.2M expected. In Korea, tech giants Samsung and Hynix were sharply higher after strong earnings posted late last week, and local press reported that Doosan Heavy's Babcock unit has developed technology allowing coal power plants to generate electricity without CO2 emissions.

- In currencies, European and commodity started off weaker against the greenback but reversed higher as Asian equity markets opened to the upside. EUR/USD traded as high as 1.4240, GBP/USD reached 1.6460 after dip below 1.64, and USD/CHF traded below 1.07. In commodity FX, USD/CAD ranged between 1.0830-80, AUD/USD rose above 0.82, while NZD approached multi-month highs just above 0.66. Japanese Yen was relatively unchanged, trading in a thin 97.70-90 band vs USD but selling off against the other majors.

- Crude oil prices opened the session lower, but have since moved into positive territory and above $68.50. Crude oil is tracking the gains in Asian equities and the commodity currencies against the US dollar. In terms of oil demand related news, the US Lundberg survey showed that the average price of regular gasoline declined by 2.7% to $2.49/gallon in the two weeks ended July 24, after the prior survey showed that prices declined by 3.9%. Despite, the most recent decline in gasoline prices, Lundberg believes that gasoline prices may rise at least 10 cents even if crude oil prices do not rise as retailers and refiners seek to improve their margins. Spot gold is higher by more than 0.10% and is tracking the gains in oil prices. In other metals trading, Shanghai copper and aluminum have moved to multi-month highs, tracking the gains in Chinese equities.