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Asia Pacific stocks nudge higher as investors watch reopening of economies

Stocks in Asia Pacific edged higher in Thursday morning trade as investors continue to monitor the reopening of economies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mainland Chinese stocks nudged higher in early trade, with the Shanghai composite up 0.21% while the Shenzhen component gained 0.2%.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 gained 0.29% as shares of FamilyMart rose 2.71%. The Topix index also added 0.18%. South Korea’s Kospi also advanced 0.42%.

Shares in Australia were little changed, with the S&P/ASX 200 slightly lower.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index traded 0.09% higher.

Japan’s trade data for April released by the country’s Ministry of Finance on Thursday showed exports in April plunging 21.9% as compared to a year earlier. That was less than the 22.7% drop predicted by economists in a Reuters poll.

Tapas Strickland, director of economics and markets at National Australia Bank, wrote in a note prior to the release that economic data “continues to take a back seat as markets look to higher frequency data to gauge how quickly activity is returning.”

“All eyes on the global PMIs to see whether economic activity troughed in April and if the easing of lockdown restrictions is seeing a bounce back in activity as indicated by the high frequency data such as Apple/Google mobility indicators,” Strickland said.

Investors also likely continued to watch for developments on the coronavirus pandemic, as the World Health Organization said the number of newly reported cases globally hit a daily record this week, amid authorities around the world attempting to ease lockdown measures put in place to curb the virus’ spread.

Markets had gotten a boost earlier in the week after Moderna announced a positive development for a potential coronavirus vaccine. On Wednesday, in response to a STAT News report that vaccine experts were skeptical of Moderna’s new vaccine data, the firm’s chairman told CNBC that it would never put out data on its potential vaccine for the coronavirus that was different from “reality.”

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 369.04 points higher, or 1.5%, at 24,575.90. The S&P 500 advanced 1.7% to 2,971.61, its highest closing level since March 6. The Nasdaq Composite outperformed, rallying 2.1% to finish its trading day at 9,375.78. Wednesday’s advance stateside put the major averages up more than 3% for the week.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 99.35 after touching levels around 99 earlier.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.64 per dollar after touching levels below 107.5 yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6559 after seeing an earlier high of $0.6599.

Oil prices were higher in the morning of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.5% to $35.93 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also gained 0.3% to $33.59 per barrel.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

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