Asian stocks set to slip on coronavirus fears, vaccine timing

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian equities were set to pull back on Wednesday as heightened concerns about coronavirus infections and the timing for a vaccine outweighed the lift from rebounding oil prices and upbeat corporate earnings in Europe.

Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned lawmakers that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed 80,000 Americans and brought the economy to its knees.

“It looks like we’re in for another negative day of trading here in the Asia Pacific region,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney. “It’s very clear that the containment has done economic damage and the recovery will take years and not weeks,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures were up 0.37%, Australian S&P/ASX 200 futures slipped 1.26% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 futures fell 0.05% to be 1.13% below Tuesday’s cash index close.​

U.S. stocks dragged equity benchmarks lower after Fauci’s remarks, who also said that there was unlikely to be a treatment or vaccine in place by late August or early September.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.89%, the S&P 500 lost 2.05% and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.06%.

The cautious mood was not helped by proposed legislation by a leading U.S. Republican senator that would authorize President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on China if it fails to give a full account of events leading to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The bill would give the president authority to impose a range of sanctions, including freezing assets, travel bans and visa revocations, as well as restrictions on loans to Chinese businesses by U.S. institutions and bans on U.S. listings by Chinese firms.

Stock markets have rebounded sharply in recent weeks as the spread of the novel coronavirus slowed in some countries in Asia and Europe, while parts of the U.S. economy began to reopen after weeks of lockdowns.

MSCI’s gauge of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.96% lower on Tuesday while its global stock index shed 1.23%.

In commodity markets, oil prices rose after OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, said it would increase supply curbs in June, while other members of the oil-producing group said they want to extend the deep cuts reached in April for a longer period than originally agreed.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $25.78 a barrel, up $1.64, or 6.8%. Brent crude futures settled at $29.98 a barrel, gaining 35 cents, or 1.2%.

The dollar fell on Tuesday as the mood turned cautious a day ahead of U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s speech on economic issues and as investors weighed the chances of negative U.S. interest rates.

Safe-haven assets such as government bonds moved higher as investors edged away from riskier investments. Benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes last rose 15/32 in price to yield 0.6795.

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