Asian shares rise amid cautious outlook for global economy

A man wearing a face mask walks past a bank's electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong Monday, April 19, 2021. Asian shares were mixed Monday amid cautious optimism about a global rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. - AP

TOKYO, April 19 (AP): Asian shares rose moderately Monday amid cautious optimism about a global rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan's benchmark closed less than 0.1% higher at 29,685.37, in the first Tokyo market reaction to a weekend by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga with President Joe Biden over the weekend. Suga also spoke with the Pfizer chief executive, asking to ensure a more steady supply of the company's COVID-19 vaccine. Japan has lagged other wealthy nations, with barely 1% of its population inoculated so far.

The government measures against Covid-19 infections already in some urban areas, including Tokyo, are being expanded to other areas of Japan, starting Tuesday, but the cities of Tokyo and Osaka are considering strengthening them to a "state of emergency.” Japan has never had a lockdown, and its laws would need to be changed for such action.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 inched up less than 0.1% to 7,065.60, while South Korea's Kospi also was little changed, at 3,198.84. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.5% to 29,106.10. The Shanghai Composite gained 1.5% to 3,477.74.

Even though the possibility of faster delivery of vaccines was a plus, the summit between Biden and Suga has added to tension with China, noted Yoshimasa Maruyama, chief market economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

"The Suga administration has taken a risk in China relations, in accordance to the U.S. request,” Maruyama said.

Suga may have hoped Biden would more forcefully express support for the Tokyo Olympics, set to open in July despite widespread public objections and worries about the pandemic, but their joint statement merely said the US supports Japan's "efforts to hold a safe and secure" Games.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average ended last week at new highs. The S&P 500 rose 0.4% to 4,185.47, led by gains in companies that rely directly on consumer spending, health care stocks and banks, which benefited from higher Treasury yields.

The Dow gained 0.5% to 34,200.67. The S&P and Dow also hit all-time highs on Thursday. The technology-heavy Nasdaq inched up 0.1%, to 14,052.34 after recovering from an early slide. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies added 0.2% to 2,262.67.

US stocks have rallied in recent weeks amid a string of encouraging reports on hiring, consumer confidence and spending that point to an accelerating U.S. economy.

Covid-19 vaccinations, now reaching half of the US population, and massive support from the US government and Federal Reserve are fueling expectations for solid corporate profit growth as more businesses reopen.

The last round of stimulus from the government helped lift retail sales, and investors now have to weigh other proposals in Washington, which include investments in infrastructure and potential tax changes.

Investors also are focusing on earnings, with dozens of U.S. companies due to report results this week, including Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Communications, Dow Chemical and American Airlines.

In energy trading, benchmark US crude fell 27 cents to $62.92 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 32 cents to $63.19 on Friday.

Brent crude, the international standard, fell 18 cents to $66.59 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar edged down to 108.41 Japanese yen from 108.78 yen late Friday. The euro rose to $1.1990 from $1.1978. - AP
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