Asian shares undermined by virus worries; dollar, U.S. yields gain

HONG KONG/TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian shares slipped on Wednesday as fears about the spread of the coronavirus dampened a positive lead from a record close on Wall Street, while the dollar and U.S. yields extended gains on Fed tapering talk.

U.S. one dollar banknotes are seen in this illustration taken February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

European stocks were expected to fare better, with Euro Stoxx futures flat and Britain’s FTSE futures trading 0.1% higher in early trade.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.4%, with South Korea falling 0.6% and Taiwan shedding 0.9%.

“What’s clearly separating Asian shares from Wall Street is the difference in vaccination. Low vaccination rates in Asia are proving to be fatal to deal with the Delta variant,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

The Delta variant of the new coronavirus is spreading quickly in many Asian countries, raising fears about local restrictions on travel and other activity hurting the economic recovery.

Chinese blue-chips were down 0.3% but Australia gained 0.2%, helped by the announcement of a record share buyback by country’s largest bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, with its annual results.

Japan’s Nikkei also bucked the trend, gaining 0.6% on brisk earnings while Japanese bank shares benefited from higher U.S. yields.

Improving U.S. economic data and a more hawkish tone from Federal Reserve officials have led markets to expect the central bank to begin tapering its asset purchases later this year, pushing up yields and supporting the dollar.

But the move has been well flagged, meaning a repeat of the so-called “taper tantrum” of 2013 that shook markets when the Fed began putting the brakes on its quantitative easing program, is unlikely, said Ray Farris, chief investment officer South Asia, Credit Suisse.

“In Asia there’s a little bit of concern about tapering but there is increasing understanding that we’re unlikely to get a tantrum,” said Farris.

“But there is a lot more concern about Delta because of its impact on a lot of Asian economies where vaccination rates are lower,” he added.

On Wall Street, the Dow and S&P 500 closed at record highs as economically sensitive value stocks gained with the U.S. Senate’s passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which now passes to the House of Representatives.

The infrastructure package could provide the nation’s biggest investment in decades in roads, bridges, airports and waterways.

The dollar was supported by rises in longer and shorter dated treasury yields which reached their highest levels since mid July, with yields on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes touching a five week high of 1.3610%.

The U.S. currency rose to a near one-month high of 110.69 yen . The euro eased to $1.1720, near year-to-date low of $1.1703 marked in March.

Elsewhere, the stronger dollar and higher bond yields weighed on gold, with the spot price falling 0.2%. Higher interest rates typically hurt non interest bearing gold.

Oil eased slightly in Asia on concerns about slower demand in China due to the spread of the Delta variant, but held on to most of their 2% gains made on Tuesday on signs of rising fuel demand in the United States.

U.S. crude and Brent crude gave up about 0.2% in Asia on Wednesday.

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