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Stocks shrug off virus worries; ECB in focus


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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asia's stock markets headed for their best day in two months on Thursday though growth-sensitive currencies struggled to rally, pointing to nagging doubts about the recovery as investors looked to the European Central Bank for their next cue.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was last up just over 1%, its largest daily jump since late May, with markets green from Seoul to Sydney.

Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

Asia's positive mood followed a rebound on Wall Street though S&P 500 futures were flat during the session suggesting the rally's momentum is fading. FTSE futures rose 0.1% and Euro STOXX 50 futures were up 0.4%.

There was no obvious catalyst for the recent rebound in stocks, or for the drawdown on Friday and Monday, though a study on Wednesday showed both Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN) vaccines were effective against the Delta coronavirus variant.

"Every now and then investors look for reasons to take some profits off and that's what we saw," said Jun Bei Liu, portfolio manager at Tribeca Investment Partners in Sydney.

"The market suddenly became worried about the Delta variant and how it might affect the path to recovery," she said. "But what we have compared with 12 months ago is quite a few viable vaccines...eventually we will be coming out of this and we are much closer to the end than we were 12 months ago."

Hong Kong led Asia's gains with banks HSBC and Standard Chartered (LON:STAN) off multi-month lows to lift the Hang Seng by 1.7%. Heavily-indebted Chinese property developer Evergrande jumped about 9% after it said it had resolved legal disputes with a lender.

Yet elsewhere risk-sensitive assets found the going tough, with the Australian and New Zealand dollars weighed down by lockdowns while the U.S. dollar hovered close to year-to-date highs on the euro.

The dollar index sat at 92.770, off Wednesday's three-month peak of 93.194 and the euro was steady just above recent lows at $1.1796. The safe-haven yen nursed small losses across the board.

ON LAGARDE WATCH

With a data calendar bare on Thursday, save for U.S. jobless claims, the European Central Bank's policy-setting decision, due at 1145 GMT, and the subsequent press conference from President Christine Lagarde are the main focus for markets.

Lagarde infused traders with a sense of anticipation after flagging an adjustment to the bank's rates guidance to reflect a new and more flexible inflation-targeting strategy.

Any changes to the pace or outlook for bond purchases will also be closely parsed.

"Overall we expect the message to be dovish and we are tactically short euro (vs yen) into the meeting," said RBC Capital Markets' chief currency strategist Adam Cole.

Rates markets idled in Asia, with trade thinned by Tokyo's holiday, leaving the yield on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasuries close to Wednesday highs at 1.2884%.

Investors have one eye on a brewing partisan showdown in Washington over the U.S. debt ceiling, as the U.S. Treasury is projected to exhaust its borrowing authority in October, which put upward pressure on short-end rates overnight.

In commodity markets, oil hung on to most of Wednesday's sharp price rise, its biggest one-day gain in three months. Brent crude futures were last 0.4% softer at $71.94 a barrel, but had gained more than 4% on Wednesday.

 

Gold was steady at $1,800 an ounce and cryptocurrencies were firm after bouncing from lows when Tesla boss Elon Musk said the carmaker would likely restart accepting bitcoin payments after due diligence on its energy use.

Bitcoin last bought $31,928.

 

By Tom Westbrook, 22 July 2021. Investing.com

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