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Asian stocks gain on hopes pandemic is approaching peak

Investors look for signs pandemic is slowing.
Oil firm before Opec+ meeting. Image: John Taggart/Bloomberg

Asian shares rose on Thursday on hopes the Covid-19 pandemic is nearing a peak and that governments would roll out more stimulus measures, while expectations of an oil production cut agreement bolstered crude prices.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.6%, following a strong Wall Street close.

Shares in China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged late last year, rose 0.54%. Australian shares were up 1.52%.

Oil prices extended gains on hopes major producers will cut output at a meeting later in the day in response to a collapse in global oil demand.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state’s efforts at social distancing were working in getting the virus under control in one of the biggest hot spots in the United States.

US President Donald Trump said he would like to reopen the US economy with a “big bang” but that the death toll from the coronavirus first needs to be heading down.

“There are signs that infections are peaking, which is leading to the change in market sentiment,” said Masayuki Kichikawa, chief macro strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management in Tokyo.

“We still need to be very careful, because this is not purely an economic problem. It’s more like a natural disaster and, therefore, harder to predict.”

The S&P 500 gained 3.41% on Wednesday, helped by hopes the pandemic was nearing its peak. However, US stock futures gave up earlier gains to be down 0.27%

The Trump administration has asked lawmakers for an additional $250 billion in aid for small US businesses.

However, congressional efforts were stalling as Democrats held out for similar amounts of aid for hospitals and local governments.

Wall Street rallied on Trump’s optimism though recent US data and forecasts are only now beginning to reflect the economic damage.

McDonald’s said global comparable sales tumbled 22.2% in March, while Starbucks forecast a 47% drop in second-quarter earnings.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index bucked the regional trend and fell 0.55% as coronavirus infections in the country rose and following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency for Tokyo and other urban areas.

The novel coronavirus has spread across the globe, infecting more than 1.4 million people and causing more than 83 400 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new virus emerged late last year, ended its more-than two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but many officials across the world remain nervous about the pace of infections and deaths.

The euro nursed losses against the dollar and the pound after euro zone finance ministers failed on Wednesday to agree on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies.

The pandemic is still infecting and killing large numbers of people across Europe and there is still no sign that the peak of the region’s outbreak has been reached, the EU’s disease monitoring agency said.

Sterling edged up for a third consecutive session. Helping confidence was news British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition is improving and he is able to sit up in bed and engage with clinical staff.

Johnson is in intensive care battling Covid-19.

Read: Johnson ‘improving’ as he fights Covid-19 in intensive care

US crude rose 4.58% to $26.24 a barrel. Brent crude rose 2.5% to $33.71 per barrel.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and allies including Russia – a group known as Opec+ – are set to convene a video conference meeting on Thursday.

Hopes of an agreement to cut between 10 million and 15 million barrels per day (bpd) rose after media reports suggested Russia was ready to reduce its output by 1.6 million bpd.

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