SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian shares were on the defensive, while oil prices edged lower on Monday as investors were cautious ahead of a U.S. Presidential debate and as coronavirus cases spike again in a blow to global economic recovery hopes.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.04% to 547.79, not too far from a two-month low of 543.66 hit last week.
The index is set to end the month deep in the red after three straight monthly gains as the pandemic continues to wreak economic havoc around the world and raises investor anxiety about sky-high valuations.
Particularly worrying is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Europe, dousing earlier hopes that authorities might have started to exert some control on the outbreak and raising further strains on businesses already grappling with losses.
Australia’s main share index slipped 0.2% as investors were cautious despite positive news on the coronavirus front with new infections in the country’s second-most populous state of Victoria down sharply and allowing authorities to ease some of the mobility restrictions.
New Zealand’s benchmark index was 0.6% weaker.
“Clouds have started to gather over the developed world as political uncertainty increases in the U.S. and Europe grapples with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases,” Kerry Craig, Global Market Strategist, J.P. Morgan Asset Management.
COVID-19 cases are edging closer to 33 million around the globe with 992,470 reportedly dead with Europe seeing a surge in new infections.
“While governments are loathe to re-introduce nationwide lockdowns, localised and sector based restrictions may last for some time, restraining economic activity,” Craig added.
Encouragingly, data over the weekend showed profits at China’s industrial firms grew for the fourth straight month in August buoyed in part by a rebound in commodities prices and equipment manufacturing.
Investor focus will next be on the first debate between U.S. President Donald Trump and rival Joe Biden on Tuesday ahead of the November election.
A strong performance in Tuesday’s debate by Biden, who currently has a modest lead in betting odds and polls, might boost stocks related to global trade and renewable energy, while a perceived victory by Trump could benefit fossil fuel and defense companies.
Market focus will also be on progress on a new fiscal support package in the United States while investors will also be closely watching UK-Europe post-Brexit trade talks as they continue this week.
In currencies, the dollar was hovering near a two-week high against the Japanese yen at 105.56.
The euro was last at $1.1631, not far from a two-month trough of $.1611 touched on Friday.
The British pound rose 0.1% to $1.2760.
The risk sensitive Australian dollar held at $0.7041 after falling for six consecutive sessions as odds narrowed over the prospect of further monetary policy easing in the country.
The kiwi was barely changed at $0.6552.
In commodities, oil prices were under pressure as renewed mobility curbs in various countries to contain a resurgence of coronavirus cases cloud the outlook on fuel demand recovery.
U.S. Brent crude slipped 11 cents to $41.81 a barrel while U.S. light crude was down 20 cents at $40.05.
Gold held at $1,860.5, still some way off an all-time peak of above $2,000 an ounce touched in August.