Asian shares slipped and the dollar held firm on Friday as traders edged away from riskier assets amid renewed concerns about COVID-19 and ahead of key U.S. inflation data that could set direction on Federal Reserve rates.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIAPJ0000PUS) lost 0.4% and Japan’s Nikkei (.N225) shed 0.5%.
Overnight the S&P 500 (.SPX) lost 0.72% and the Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dropped 1.71%. S&P 500 futures rose 0.14% in Asian hours.
Shares and risk-friendly currencies had performed well earlier in the week, with MSCI’s regional benchmark posting its best day in two months on Tuesday, helped by indications the Omicron strain of the new coronavirus might not be as economically disruptive as first feared.
“Then, as we got towards the end of the week the fact that Europe was much more clearly moving into a sort of lockdown light and cases are going up, and COVID-19 case numbers in the U.S. are starting to ratchet up flipped things a little bit,” said Rob Carnell, head of research Asia Pacific at ING.
“Also there is a slight sense of ‘let’s not have too much risk on the table for the weekend’. Of course, there is CPI out in the U.S. – but I think we’ve all woken up to the fact that there is inflation in the U.S. now,” he added.
U.S. consumer price index (CPI) for November is due later Friday and a Reuters poll of economists expect it to have risen 6.8% year-on-year, overtaking a 6.2% increase in October, which was the fastest gain in 31 years.
Any upside surprise will likely be interpreted as a case for a faster Fed taper and sooner interest rate rises.
Shares in China Evergrande Group (3333.HK) lost 1.5% after Fitch downgraded it to restricted default status.
The Hong Kong benchmark (.HSI) lost 0.24% but global markets have been much less concerned by the latest development in the long-running Evergrande saga than they were a few months ago.
“This issue has been going on for two and a half months now, and markets don’t seem to be as fussed because a default on Evergrande’s offshore debt has seemed highly likely,” said Shane Oliver, head of the investment strategy at AMP Capital.
Also in China, the central bank on Thursday directed financial institutions to hold more foreign exchange in reserve for a second time this year, which markets interpreted as an attempt to slow down a recent rapid appreciation of the yuan.
The yuan lost about half a per cent in offshore trade on Thursday and weakened further Friday to 6.385.
Other currency moves were in line with the broad risk-off mood. The dollar held firm, the euro, which dropped 0.4% overnight stayed under pressure, while the Aussie dollar wobbled lower.
U.S. Treasury yields slipped a little overnight with benchmark 10-year Treasury notes last at 1.4888%.
Oil also skidded. U.S. crude dipped 0.5% to $70.56 a barrel. Brent crude fell 0.47% to $74.08, while gold, however, edged higher on the worries. The spot price rose 0.2% to $1777.8 an ounce.