An afternoon push lifted Australian shares back toward a session high, leaving the benchmark among the best performers in the region. Recovering some of the losses of the last four sessions, the S&P/ASX 200 settled 0.3% higher at 6179.6. Resources stocks carried much of the load, with the energy sector collectively up 1.4% after another advance in Brent crude overnight. Still, the banks countered, with the biggest lenders extending losses.
U.S. stocks flipped between gains and losses intraday as investors continued to weigh global trade tensions and concerns about slowing economic growth. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ticked up 20 points, or 0.1%, to 25721. The S&P 500
added less than 0.1% and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.1%. Gains in financial shares in the broad S&P 500 were offset by declines in material stocks. All three major averages are at least 1% higher so far this week after suffering their worst week since December. Mounting signs of a global economic slowdown have kept this year’s rally in check, though progress in the trade talks between Washington and Beijing and dovish messaging by central banks have helped stocks recover from steep falls in the fourth quarter.
Gold futures pulled back below the $1,300-an-ounce level, giving up their highest levels of the month, as the U.S. dollar regained its footing and investors appeared to shrug off political turmoil in the U.K. surrounding the country’s preparations for exiting from the European Union. Gold for April delivery on Comex fell $14.20, or 1.1%, to settle at $1,295.10 an ounce. On Wednesday, prices for the most-active contract marked the highest settlement since Feb. 28. May silver dropped 28.5 cents, or 1.8%, to $15.171 an ounce. The move to delay or even cancel March 29’s Brexit deadline boosted “risk-on sentiment, pulling some of the hot money out of gold derivatives,” said Adrian Ash, head of research at BullionVault. After gold futures settled, U.K. lawmakers voted to request an extension of the March 29 Brexit deadline. In other commodity markets, March wheat prices rose 8 cents to $4.48 1/4.
Iron Ore: 84.43s + 2.33 (April Contract)
U.S. oil prices rose to their highest level of the year as U.S. sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran begin to put a tighter squeeze on global oil supplies. West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. oil standard, ended 0.6% higher at $56.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That’s the highest closing level since Nov. 12, and prices have now risen for four consecutive sessions. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, ended 0.5% lower at $67.23 a barrel on London’s Intercontinental Exchange. Crude prices have climbed to four-month highs for the past two sessions, helped largely by U.S. sanctions placed on both Iran and Venezuela that are making it increasingly difficult for those oil-rich countries to export any of their crude.
The dollar rose against emerging-market currencies intraday, as investors reacted to weaker-than-expected Chinese data. The U.S. currency was recently up 0.6% against the Brazilian real and gained 0.5% versus the Korean won, while strengthening against a range of other emerging-markets currencies. Indicators released by China’s government showed a steepening of the downturn that began last year in the world’s second-largest economy, despite a rebound in investment driven by Beijing to shore up growth. Signs of a slowing Chinese economy are worrying for developing countries that depend on Chinese demand to soak up their exports of commodities and other goods. Last year, the Chinese economy grew at its slowest rate in nearly three decades. The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of 16 others, was recently up 0.3% to 89.90.
The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.8% after U.K. lawmakers late Wednesday ruled out a no-deal exit from the European Union. The index finished up 2.92 points to 378.52, the largest one-day point gain since Feb. 15. The index is now up for two consecutive trading days and is up 5.27 points, or 1.41%, over the last two trading days. The DAX was up 15.06 points, or 0.13%, to 11587.47 and is now up for two consecutive trading days. the CAC-40 index was up 43.40 points, or 0.82%, to 5349.78. The index saw its largest one-day point-and-percentage gain since Feb. 15. The FTSE 100 index was up 26.24 points, or 0.37%, to 7185.43 and is up for four consecutive trading days.
Asia-Pacific equities closed little changed, with the exception of China. China shares underperformed, with smaller-stock indexes in Shenzhen down a further 2%-plus. In the past six weeks, Chinese shares have been logging big moves — mostly upward but increasingly down, as well, in recent days — as the possibility of a new U.S.-China trade deal hangs over markets. The benchmarks in South Korea posted a 0.3% gain following recent declines. Taiwan’s Taiex retreated after tapping a month-to-date high, dragged by regional decline, ending down 0.2% at 10,348.65 with moderate turnover of NT$114 billion. Decent dividend yield could buoy Taiwan stocks amid limited near term news flow, said Golden Gate Securities, expecting a level of support at 10,260. Japan managed to hold onto to its modest gains until the close, when it ended down 0.02% at 21287.02. Although it opened nearly 1% higher, the index struggled to hold onto gains, following mixed data from China, and fell after the midday break. Nearly 22 of the Topix’s 33 sectors ended in the red, with the chemical subsection leading declines, down 1.2%. Korean stocks finished higher after a choppy trading session, with auto shares weighing on the market. The benchmark Kospi edged up 0.3% at 2155.68. Sluggish demand and worries over possible U.S. tariffs on car imports made auto makers among the biggest decliners. Hyundai Motor and its car-parts supplier Hyundai Mobis plunged 2.9% and 3.4%, respectively.