Asian stock markets pulled ahead on Thursday as corporate earnings and a ceasefire in northern Syria helped prop up sentiment. Yet, the backdrop of trade and brexit uncertainties was enough to prevent a decisive shift towards riskier assets.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.3 percent with Japan’s Nikkei inching up 0.55 percent after hitting a one-year high. Australian shares added 0.3 percent.
Risk appetite was also aided after U.S. President Donald Trump lifted sanctions on Turkey saying a ceasefire in northern Syria was now permanent.
“U.S.-China trade friction seems to be entering a truce, a no-deal Brexit looks increasingly likely to be avoided, and the U.S.’s posture against Turkey appears to have been softening,” JPMorgan analyst Tohru Sasaki wrote in a note pointing to reasons for a rally in Nikkei.
JPMorgan expects gains in the Japanese index to extend into year-end led by share buy-backs.
A private survey showed Japanese factory activity shrank at the fastest pace in over three years in October, hurt by slowing global demand and trade frictions.
Chinese shares did open higher but soon erased those gains with the blue-chip index easing 0.3 percent.
Microsoft also posted forecast-beating profit and revenue numbers after the closing bell though the outlook was darkened by slower-than-expected take-up of its Azure cloud services.
Earlier, shares of U.S. industrial bellwethers Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc ended about 1% higher each despite big earnings misses.
RBC Capital Markets’ chief economist Tom Porcelli pointed to consistently alarming headlines since the first quarter of 2018 suggesting poor Caterpillar earnings meant a recession was round the corner, though that has yet to transpire.
“We have been down this road before with CAT,” Porcelli said in a note titled ‘Still Waiting for Recession.’
“If you keep saying a recession is here, it is a mathematical certainty that at some point you will be right,” he wrote. “Maybe try again after CAT’s next quarterly earnings report.”
So far, results from about 125 of the S&P500 companies are out with analysts expecting earnings to have declined 2.9 percent year-over-year, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Currency markets stuck to tight ranges ahead of key central bank meetings this week and next with the euro zone, Japan and United States due to review policy. European and U.S. manufacturing numbers are due later in the day.
Sterling paused at $1.2914 after growing 0.3 percent on Wednesday with Brexit developments in focus.
Britain appears closer than ever to resolving its 3-1/2-year Brexit conundrum but there are still hurdles to clear.
EU member states on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to grant Britain a three-month Brexit extension. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said if the deadline is deferred to the end of January, he would call an election.
“The Brexit battle looks like it will drag on,” economists at ANZ wrote in a note.
“The UK government will not meet its current timetable of leaving the EU on 31 October, and an extension appears likely. In the meantime, Brexit uncertainty will keep weighing on UK business investment and activity.”
The single currency was flat at $1.1132. The Japanese yen was 0.1 percent higher at 108.6 per dollar while the Australian dollar was a tad weaker at $0.6842.
That left the dollar index slightly lower at 97.452 against a basket of six major currencies.
In commodity markets, U.S. crude eased 38 cents to $55.59 while Brent slipped 22 cents to $60.95.
Gold was treading water at $1,491.51 an ounce.