US stocks inch closer to record high

US stocks inch closer to record high

US stocks edged higher and tested their all-time high again on Monday, after Chinese equities rallied on fresh stimulus measures.

Wall Street’s S&P 500 rose 0.3 per cent at the opening bell. The benchmark has struggled to surpass its February record in recent sessions, closing on Friday at 3,372 points or 0.6 per cent off its intraday peak. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite added 0.5 per cent.

Maya Bhandari, fund manager at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, said that risks of a resurgence in coronavirus, rising US-China tensions and stalling negotiations for fiscal stimulus in the world’s largest economy were weighing on markets.

“Taking some profit in risk markets is prudent . . . at the fringe uncertainties are growing,” she said, adding that the prospect of a swift economic recovery was slim. “As long as the uncertainty over a second wave persists, we don’t see people returning to pre-crisis behaviours or activity any time soon.”

The Vix volatility index, known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, has slid in August to 22.24, its lowest level since February, indicating lower levels of expected market volatility in the same vein as last week’s narrow rangebound trading.

But Goldman Sachs was confident that US shares would eclipse their record level and keep rising. It raised its end-of-year price target for the S&P 500 from 3,000 to 3,600.

“The S&P 500 level has returned to its pre-pandemic high, but the building blocks supporting the price have shifted dramatically,” said David Kostin, Goldman’s chief US equity strategist. “Share prices reflect not just the expected future stream of earnings but also the rate at which the profits are discounted to present value.”

In China, stocks rose after fresh stimulus measures helped investors put to one side the latest escalation in tensions between Washington and Beijing.

China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks gained 2.4 per cent on Monday after the central bank injected Rmb700bn ($101bn) of liquidity into the financial system through its medium-term lending facility. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.7 per cent following the intervention.

The rise came despite US president Donald Trump threatening further action against more companies from the country, including ecommerce group Alibaba. Mr Trump had previously ordered Chinese internet company ByteDance to divest the US operations of social media app TikTok within 90 days.

However, the “phase one” trade pact between the US and China remained intact, after a meeting between officials from the world’s two largest economies scheduled for the weekend was postponed.

Tokyo’s Topix index fell 0.8 per cent after data showed the Japanese economy shrank by a record 7.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, which was slightly better than other big global economies but a steeper fall than peers such as South Korea and Taiwan. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dropped by a similar percentage, while Seoul’s Kospi index slipped 1.2 per cent.

European equities started the week slightly higher as gains for mining stocks that could be set to benefit from the Chinese stimulus balanced out further losses for travel stocks. The continent-wide benchmark Stoxx 600 rose 0.3 per cent, helped higher by London’s FTSE 100 adding 0.7 per cent.

Outbreaks across Europe have prompted the reintroduction of quarantine measures and precautionary restrictions, such as the closure of nightclubs in Spain and Italy. “Covid-19 infections remain an important speed brake on activity,” said Christian Keller, head of economics research at Barclays.

The yield on US 10-year Treasury notes fell 0.026 percentage points to 0.6833 per cent, as a sell-off that pushed it up from about 0.55 per cent at the end of July ran out of steam.