Dollar, commodities cheered by China, US economic news


London, Aug 31:  

Investors rediscovered a taste for the dollar and commodities on Thursday as upbeat Chinese and US economic news whetted appetite for riskier assets globally, even as tensions over North Korea simmered in the background.

One big gainer was US gasoline which surged 6 per cent to two-year peaks as flooding and damage from Tropical Storm Harvey shut nearly a quarter of US refinery capacity. Prices are now up more than 20 per cent in the past week.

Adding to the bullish mood, a survey showed Chinese factory growth unexpectedly accelerated in August, confounding forecasts for a slight slowdown. The official PMI firmed to 51.7, from 51.4 in July.

That gave a fresh boost to industrial metals, with copper nearing its highest since late 2014 and on track for gains of 7 per cent for August.

European share markets opened firmer, with the Eurostoxx 600 up 0.3 per cent and London’s FTSE, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC40 ahead by 0.25 – 0.4 per cent.

Attention was on euro zone inflation data due at 1000 GMT. It is expected to show another small rise and should give the European Central Bank comfort ahead of its policy meeting next week.

US core inflation figures, which will be closely scrutinised by the Federal Reserve as it looks to push on with its recent run of rate hikes, are also due later.

“It is almost like we have ended up with a default risk-on, which is in part predicated by the very benign pricing for what central banks do next,” said head of global macro strategy at State Street Global Markets, Michael Metcalfe.

“And that is why the inflation numbers now will be important,” especially with energy prices and commodity prices having risen over the last couple of months. “The period where we could have expected favourable inflation numbers (for keeping interest rates low) may have passed.”

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei closed up 0.7 per cent, its best level in two weeks, helped by a pullback in the yen.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged down 0.1 per cent on the day but was a modest 0.3 per cent firmer for the month.

Emerging market stocks took a breather too. But August has been their eighth straight month of gains and are now up almost 30 per cent since the start of the year.

Wall Street had got a boost on Wednesday when data showed the US economy grew at an upwardly revised 3 per cent annualised pace in the second quarter, courtesy of robust consumer spending and strong business investment.

Other figures showed US private-sector employers hired 237,000 workers in August, the biggest monthly increase in five months and an upbeat omen for payrolls on Friday.

The Dow rose 0.12 per cent, while the S&P 500 gained 0.46 per cent and the Nasdaq 1.05 per cent.

Seeking an answer

The better economic news helped distract from rumblings in the Korean peninsula and lifted the US dollar.

President Donald Trump had on Wednesday declared “talking is not the answer” to the tense standoff with North Korea over its nuclear missile development, but his defence chief said diplomatic solutions were still available.

Against a basket of major currencies, the US dollar crept ahead to 92.929 and away from a 2-1/2-year low of 91.621 touched on Tuesday. The dollar also bounced to 110.50 yen, off a 4-1/2-month low of 108.25.

The euro retreated to $1.1890 from its top of $1.2069, weighed in part by speculation the European Central Bank might start to protest at the currency’s strength.

“The ECB meeting is coming up next week and there are rising risks of verbal intervention from Mario Draghi,” said Deutsche Bank strategist George Saravelos.

“Despite this the euro level does not appear particularly extreme and most importantly the ECB has not been driving recent appreciation anyway,” he added. “Verbal rhetoric may cause a correction but is unlikely to be enough to derail euro strength.”

The currency has risen sharply this year against the dollar as pessimism over the euro bloc has dissipated and its economy has started to gain some traction.

The bounce in the dollar shaved 0.5 per cent off the prices of gold to $1,302.50 an ounce, short of Tuesday’s 9-1/2-month high of $1,325.94.

With so much US refinery capacity shut in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey, oil prices were hit by demand concerns. Brent eased 9 cents to $50.77 a barrel, while US crude hovered at $46.05.

(This article was published on August 31, 2017)

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