Asia Markets

Asia stocks edge higher as RBA cuts cash rate to new record low

Key Points
  • Stocks in Asia mostly rose on Tuesday, though gains were capped as hopes that central banks would potentially take action to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak were dented.
  • The Reserve Bank of Australia announced Tuesday a cut in the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.5%, a new record low.
  • Over in Malaysia, where the country was hit by a recent wave of political uncertainty that resulted in the unexpected appointment of a new prime minister, Bank Negara Malaysia cut its overnight policy rate by 25 basis points to 2.5%.

Stocks in Asia mostly rose on Tuesday, though gains were capped amid potentially dashed hopes that central banks could take action to combat the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mainland Chinese stocks rose on the day, with the Shenzhen component up 0.9% to 11,484.21 while the Shenzhen composite gained 1.031% to about 1,888.92. Earlier in the session, the Shenzhen indexes had seen gains of more than 2% each. The Shanghai composite advanced 0.74% to around 2,992.90. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was about 0.3% higher, as of its final hour of trading.

In South Korea, the Kospi gained 0.58% to close at 2,014.15.

Elsewhere, however, the Nikkei 225 in Japan slipped 1.22% to close at 21,082.73 while the Topix declined 1.36% to end its trading day at 1,505.12. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 closed 0.69% higher at 6,435.70.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 0.84% higher.

Central bank rate cuts

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced on Tuesday a cut in the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.5%, a new record low. Following that decision, the Australian dollar jumped to $0.6549 after seeing an earlier low of $0.6507.

"The coronavirus outbreak overseas is having a significant effect on the Australian economy at present, particularly in the education and travel sectors," said RBA Governor Philip Lowe in a statement.

"The global outbreak of the coronavirus is expected to delay progress in Australia towards full employment and the inflation target. The Board therefore judged that it was appropriate to ease monetary policy further to provide additional support to employment and economic activity," Lowe said.

Commenting after the RBA announced its decision, HSBC's Paul Bloxham said that the central bank "moved so fast."

"I'm not sure the monetary (policy) response is going to do that much but it's obviously ... the RBA sensed that they kinda had to do this," Bloxham, who is chief economist for Australia, New Zealand and global commodities at HSBC, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday.

"The key question is gonna be, looking globally, is this the lead off for a lot of other central banks to follow suit?," he asked. "The RBA is leading the way in terms of ... delivering a cut. I don't know how effective it's going to be."

Over in Malaysia, where the country was hit by a recent wave of political uncertainty that resulted in the unexpected appointment of a new prime minister, Bank Negara Malaysia cut its overnight policy rate by 25 basis points to 2.5%. That was the lowest in 10 years, according to Reuters.

Stimulus hopes

The narrowing of gains regionally came following a Tuesday Reuters report that the Group of Seven industrial powers is expected to issue a statement on Tuesday or Wednesday on countering the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

At present, that did not include any specific call for new government expenditure or coordinated interest rate cuts by central banks, Reuters reported citing a G-7 official with direct knowledge of the deliberations.

That came as investors awaited a conference call between global financial ministers and central bankers to coordinate the financial and economic response to the coronavirus.

The teleconference call will be led by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and is expected to happen on Tuesday at 7 a.m. ET, according to CNBC's Steve Liesman. Representatives of the Group of Seven industrialized nations will attend the call.

"I think the fact that we're even getting the conversation about stimulus is a positive," said Manpreet Gill, head of fixed income, currencies and commodities investment strategy at Standard Chartered Private Bank.

Sill, Gill added that traditional monetary policy is a "blunt instrument."

"You're gonna get more liquidity, you can get lower interest rates. That may be part of a good solution but that may not be enough in itself," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday.

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 1,293.96 points higher to close at 26,703.32 — its biggest move on a percentage basis since March 2009 and the 30-stock average's largest-ever points gain. The S&P 500 jumped 4.6% — its best one-day performance since Dec. 26, 2018 — to end its trading day at 3,090.23. The Nasdaq Composite also had its best day since 2018, surging 4.5% to close at 8,952.16.

Investors were driven to safety last week amid fears over the economic impact of the coronavirus spreading rapidly outside of China, where the disease was first reported. More than 89,000 cases have been confirmed around the world so far along with at least 3,000 virus-related deaths.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 97.444 after declining from levels around around 98 yesterday.

The Japanese yen strengthened to 107.93 per dollar after an earlier low of 108.53.

Oil prices were higher in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.92% to $52.38 per barrel while U.S. crude futures advanced 1.43% to $47.42 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.