Asian markets weighed by virus spikes and stimulus gridlock

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HONG KONG (AFP) – Most Asian markets fell Monday following another disappointing performance on Wall Street with investors growing concerned about an uptick in infections in Europe and the US, as well as the lack of movement in Washington on a new stimulus.

After months of big gains around the world, fuelled by government stimulus and central bank largesse, equities are beginning to wobble, with analysts warning traders were taking profits as they consider the rally may have been overblown.

A key worry is a spike in new virus cases in key economies that have led to containment measures being reimposed.

Britain’s government, noting hospitalisation rates are doubling every eight days, said fresh restrictions could be put in place across England, with several cities already seeing some measures.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country is at a “tipping point”.

France has seen death numbers creep back up and there are fears Madrid could be overwhelmed. New infection rates in the United States are also picking up again after dropping for weeks.

“Investors remain confused about which way to move… as lockdown fears take charge with the UK government sounding alarm bells as the Covid-19 curve moves in the wrong direction,” said AxiCorp’s Stephen Innes.

“After the initial economic bounce from full-blown lockdowns, both the UK and Europe’s economic trajectory could be entering a gloomy second phase characterised by ongoing social distancing, elevated unemployment, and increasing damage to the supply side.”

– ‘Sensitive to uncertainty’ –

Hong Kong, Shanghai and Sydney were all well down, with smaller losses in Taipei and Wellington, though Seoul was barely moved and there were gains in Singapore and Jakarta.

Investors are keeping an eye on Capitol Hill where US lawmakers are still nowhere near agreeing on a new rescue package for the beleaguered economy, despite millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.

While Donald Trump has urged Republicans to lift their $500 billion offer, they remain miles apart from the Democrats, who are calling for around $2 trillion to be spent.

Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell has warned that while the central bank can keep interest rates low and provide financial support to businesses, the economy needs a new shot in the arm from Congress to get its recovery back on track.

“Elevated equity valuation probably also means that investors have become a bit more sensitive to uncertainty,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“So on this score we have to add the US elections early in November, plus the Fed’s decision to refrain from increasing its bond buying at the September FOMC meeting… and the continued stalemate in negotiations over a new fiscal package.”

Traders will be closely watching congressional testimony by Powell later in the week for fresh clues about the Fed’s future policy plans.

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