HONG KONG: Equity markets in Asia mostly rose Friday following a positive lead from Wall Street but optimism remains at a premium as traders operate under the shadows of war, soaring inflation, US interest rate hikes and China’s lockdowns.
Technology firms were weighed by Apple and Amazon’s surprisingly downbeat earnings and warnings about the outlook, while oil dipped but held most of Thursday’s gains on a possible embargo on Russian crude.
US shares finished solidly higher Thursday to recoup losses suffered earlier in the week as investors brushed off data showing a sharper-than-expected first-quarter economic contraction and took heart on strong spending figures.
A healthy showing by Facebook parent Meta also provided a lift to Wall Street, but tech titans Apple and Amazon brought everything back down to Earth with their post-close reports.
Apple said it saw a bump in profits but warned China Covid-19 lockdowns and long-running supply chain woes could deal a $4-$8 billion blow in the next three months.
And Amazon revealed its first quarterly loss since 2015 owing to its investment in electric truck maker Rivian, then warned of continuing challenges in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, earnings expectations for Chinese giants Alibaba and Baidu have been slashed by analysts taking into account the effects of Beijing’s lockdowns as it presses on with its zero-Covid strategy.
The bad news for tech firms has been compounded by the Federal Reserve’s determination to ramp up interest rates to fight runaway inflation. The sector is susceptible to higher borrowing costs owing to its reliance on debt to drive growth.
Traders are increasingly concerned the recovery in the world’s top economy could be thrown off course, warning officials will struggle to achieve a soft landing by controlling prices while still nurturing growth.
“The Fed’s record on soft landings is not that strong,” Carol Schleif, at BMO Family Office, told Bloomberg Television.
“Markets are watching very, very carefully to see if we can thread that needle.”
Still, most markets in Asia remain in positive territory heading into the weekend, with hopes China will continue its recent run of pledges of support.
“The Chinese Politburo (which meets Friday) will focus on spreading good cheer to Asian markets, so expect China to show a more pro-growth policy tone in terms of Covid restrictions, the housing market, internet regulation, and consumption boost,” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “call for an ‘all-out’ effort to boost infrastructure for economic stability helped both (Hong Kong and mainland) market sentiment”.
“We should expect further easing to support the market,” he added but warned “significant moves are unlikely given the protracted lockdown scheduled to run through June. There is no point in throwing money at people who are scared to leave their apartment for one reason or another”.
Oil was slightly lower as demand worries caused by China’s lockdowns weigh, though the commodity continues to win support from the Ukraine war.
Thursday’s advances came as Europe discusses a gradual ban on Russian imports, with Germany – which relies heavily on energy from the country – edging towards support for a move.
Key figures at around 0230 GMT
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 0.4 percent at 20,197.69
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 2,983.02
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: Closed for a holiday
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0517 from $1.0509 late Thursday
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2478 from $1.2468
Euro/pound: UP at 84.29 pence from 84.25 pence
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 130.65 yen from 130.79 yen
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.6 percent at $107.00 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.5 percent at $104.80 per barrel
New York - Dow: UP 1.9 percent at 33,916.39 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP 1.1 percent at 7,509.19 (close)