Asian stocks make cautious gains, dollar languishes near two-year lows on Fed

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian stocks were boosted on Thursday by the promise of ultra-easy monetary policy globally as the U.S. Federal Reserve pledged to support the country’s virus-battered economy, though record-shattering COVID-19 cases tempered gains.

In a mixed lead for Europe, futures for Eurostoxx 50 STXEc1 were slightly higher and those for Germany’s Dax FDXc1 were flat. London’s FTSE futures FFIc1 rose 0.2% while E-minis for the S&P 500 ESc1 were 0.2% lower.

Asian shares were mixed too with Japan’s Nikkei .N225 giving up early gains to be down 0.26%, China’s blue-chip index was off 0.3% .CSI300 and Singapore shares were down 2.25%. .STI

South Korea’s KOSPI .KS11 added 0.2% while Australia’s main index climbed 0.7% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index .HSI rose 0.4%.

That left MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside of Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS up 0.3%.

A U.S. stalemate over the next fiscal stimulus package together with a surge in novel coronavirus cases in the world’s largest economy had investors on the backfoot.

Cases have also spiked this week in Asia with Australia, India, Vietnam, and North Korea all on high alert.

“There is no doubt that the Fed’s large presence in markets has provided risk assets with a backstop to stop a tightening in financial conditions,” said Perpetual analyst Matthew Sherwood.

On Wednesday, all Fed members voted as expected to leave the target range for short-term rates between 0% and 0.25%, where it has been since March 15 when the virus was beginning to hit the nation.

The unchanged policy setting together with a pledge the Fed would use its “full range of tools” if needed boosted risk appetite overnight with all three Wall Street indexes finishing firmer. .IXIC .DJI .SPX

“But they (Fed) don’t have any tools to engineer a recovery, which means that fiscal policy will need to remain in place to support household incomes, especially as unemployment could increase in the months ahead as the true impact of the shock on the labour market is revealed,” Sherwood added.

Indeed, negotiations for a new coronavirus relief package in the United States have become a pressing issue for investors.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that his administration and Democrats in Congress were still “far apart” on a new coronavirus relief bill.

In currencies, the dollar index regained some lost ground after crashing to 93.17, the weakest since June 2018.

The dollar =USD has been tumbling on expectations the Fed will continue its ultra loose monetary policy for years to come and on speculation it will allow inflation to run higher than it has previously indicated before raising interest rates.

The greenback weakness has supported the euro, which is on course to post its biggest monthly gain in 10 years, having risen about 5% so far this month. It was last down 0.3% at $1.1754.

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar AUD=D3 slipped 0.5% to $0.7148 after hitting its highest levels since April 2019.

In commodity markets, oil prices were weighed down by concerns that surging coronavirus infections around the globe could jeopardise a recovery in fuel demand.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 were down 7 cents at $43.68 a barrel. U.S. crude futures CLc1 eased 7 cents to $41.20.

Spot gold XAU= was off 0.56% at $1,959.2 an ounce.

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