Hong Kong: Asian stocks rose on Tuesday, the last day of a torrid quarter, as investors added to trades based on a rebound in economic activity, while funds slashed bets against a fall in oil prices to keep crude on track for its biggest quarterly gain in 19 years.
Major European stock indexes followed Asia’s example by opening slightly firmer.
The US dollar slid as momentum kept dealers rolling out of trades based on safety after a 7 percent drop on the quarter, keeping commodity prices supported.
Trading volumes for oil in Aisa surged 10 times normal levels, with crude for August delivery rising briefly above $73 a barrel to new highs for the year.
Emerging markets have been the big winners so far this year, with the MSCI emerging markets equities index up 32% so far in 2009 compared to a 6% rise on the all-country world index.
With the worst of the financial crisis now history, a tremendous shift by investors out of cash and low-yielding money market instruments into riskier assets, particularly in Asia, has been driving equity valuations and currencies in the region higher.
However, the third quarter could be a time of reckoning if higher raw materials prices snuff out signs of a nascent recovery.
“Just how higher oil prices are a boon to the global economy when consumers are struggling to keep jobs and make payment on negative equity housing loans is a mystery. We are confident that threats to risk appetite and risk assets point clearly toward potential reversal, not extension of gains,” said Patrick Bennett, Asia foreign exchange and rates strategist with Societe Generale said in a note.
So far this year, Chinese and Indian stock markets have been the hottest in the region.
The Shanghai composite slipped 0.4% on the day after earlier hitting the highest since June 2008, and has risen 63% so far this year.
India’s BSE index also edged down 0.4% but it had gained 52% in the first half, with most of it won after a decisive election victory by a Congress-led coalition in May.
Japan’s Nikkei share average finished 1.8% higher, with firms in the technology sector giving a boost to the index after the government said it would invest ¥30 billion ($312 million) in computer chip maker Elpida Memory Inc.
The index climbed 23 percent in the last three months, the biggest quarterly rise since 1995.
Valuation of the Nikkei on a price-to-book basis has jumped to around 1.3 times, having spent the first quarter below a multiple of one. It is still well below the average of the last decade of 1.9 times.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 0.2%, after earlier gains were wiped out in afternoon trade. However, shares of Asia’s top refiner Sinopec were up 4.7% after China unexpectedly lifted domestic gasoline and diesel prices to their highest ever.
Oil rose sharply to 8-month highs, though a lack of news suggested dealers were focused on quarter-end activity. Traders pointed to funds moving into the market to cover loss-making positions.
London Brent led the rally, gaining $1.74 a barrel to $72.73. US crude for August delivery rose to an eight-month high of $73.38 a barrel, but later cooled to trade at $73.06, up $1.57 on the day.
“This could be end-of-quarter movement, and traders are trying to push prices higher and then selling before closing their books,” said Mark Pervan, senior commodity strategist with ANZ Bank.
A weakening US dollar overnight helped to prop up commodity prices and the dollar continued falling in Asian hours.
The ICE Futures US dollar index fell 0.3%, locked in a downtrend since March.
Sterling jumped after data showed UK house prices surprisingly rose a second month in June, a further sign the market may be stabilising. The pound rose 1.1% to the highest in 8 months at $1.6740.
The Australian dollar was up 0.7 percent to $0.8120.
Bets on further strength in the Australian dollar have become significant enough to suggest a near-term move lower, though it has not experienced a loss of momentum in its rise against the U.S. dollar to squeeze short-term investors, said strategists with Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch in a research note.
Japanese government bonds gained, with investors hastening to pick up some yield ahead of the end of the first half. The 10-year future was up 0.22 point to a three-month high.