Asian shares set to finish 2020 at record high, riskier currencies in favor

HONG KONG/NEW YORK (Reuters) -Asian shares edged up on Thursday and were set to end a tumultuous 2020 at record highs, while growing investor hopes for a global economic recovery caused the dollar to fall further against most major currencies.

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing facial masks are reflected on an electric board showing stock prices outside a brokerage at a business district in Tokyo, Japan January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

MSCI’s gauge of Asia-Pacific shares excluding Japan rose 0.1% to its latest peak, having explored fresh territory repeatedly late in the year. But year-end trading was typically thin.

The index is set for a fourth-quarter gain of over 19%, which would be its strongest three-month performance since 2009, and a yearly rise just shy of 20%, which would be its highest since 2017.

“A lot of the rise in the second part of the quarter is because the political risk evaporated,” said Kerry Craig, Global Market Strategist, J.P. Morgan Asset Management, citing the U.S. election, hopes for an easing in U.S. China trade tensions and the Brexit deal.

Looking to 2021, Craig said investors were trying to balance the potential for rising inflation against a likely economic recovery, and assess whether that rebound might be impeded early in the year by new strains of COVID-19 and struggles with rolling out vaccines.

Chinese blue chips rose 1.45% on Thursday after official data showed that activity in China’s service and factory sector expanded in December, albeit both at a slower pace than the previous month. The Hong Kong benchmark also rose 0.26%.

Australian shares fell 0.80% after tighter restrictions on movement were announced in an effort to quash fresh COVID-19 cases.

Markets in Japan and South Korea are on holiday.

E-Mini S&P futures rose 0.10%.

The upbeat mood, reflected in overnight gains on Wall Street, drubbed the “safe-haven” dollar and supported almost all other major currencies.

The dollar dropped against a basket of currencies, sinking 0.074% to 89.528, after earlier touching it lowest since April 2018.

Oil prices bucked the trend, however, retreating a shade as swelling year-over-year supply led some traders to view any economic recovery ahead to be gradual rather than swift.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude shed 0.23% to trade at $48.29 a barrel, far below about $62 at the start of 2020, and Brent was trading down 25 cents, or 0.5%, at $51.38. [O/R]

Global crude oil markets have lost about a fifth of their value in 2020 as strict coronavirus lockdowns paralysed economic activity and travel, but prices have rebounded strongly from their lows as governments rolled out stimulus.

Gold dropped 0.14% to $1,89.62 an ounce. The precious metal has risen over 24% this year, its best year since 2010 as investors looked to safe havens and as the dollar wilted. Treasuries were little changed, with benchmark U.S. 10-year yields at 0.9264% and two-year yields at 0.1250%.

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