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Asia-Pacific markets edge higher; China’s industrial profits rise in August

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Stocks in Asia-Pacific traded higher on Monday morning, as investors react to Chinese economic data released over the weekend.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 added 0.74% in early trade while the Topix index gained 0.76%. South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.98%.

Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 was above the flatline.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index traded 0.1% higher.

Shares of Chinese chipmaker SMIC will be watched by investors following reports that the U.S. has imposed restrictions on exports to the firm, citing risks of military use, according to Reuters.

China’s industrial profits rose 19.1% in August, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics announced over the weekend. Chinese economic data has been watched by investors for signs of the country’s continued recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the situation surrounding the pandemic elsewhere could also weigh on investor sentiment. Europe is now facing the prospect of a double-dip recession as it grapples with a coronavirus second wave. Over in the U.S., new daily coronavirus cases topped 1,000 in New York state on Saturday — the first time new infections in the state passed the 1,000 mark since early June.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 94.54 after rising from levels below 93.0 last week.

The Japanese yen traded at 105.56 per dollar following a weakening last week from levels below 105 against the greenback. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7036 after sliding from levels above $0.72 last week.

Oil prices were lower in the morning of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 0.26% to $41.81 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also shed 0.42% to $40.08 per barrel.

— CNBC’s Yun Li contributed to this report.

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Rising rates seem to signal a recovery is near, but investors wonder whether they can be believed

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A worker uses a nail gun while installing trim in a home under construction at a Romanelli and Hughes Building Co. subdivision in Dublin, Ohio, July 9, 2020.

Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Bonds, it would seem, are speaking the bulls’ language.

Treasury yields rolled to a four-month high last week, the 10-year note reaching 0.84%, as U.S. economic data continue to arrive generally better than expected and the markets anticipate further fiscal-support worth trillions either sooner or later, under this administration or the next.

Bonds racked up the style points, too, in ways that Wall Street tends to read as signs of better economic growth to come. The spread between five- and 30-year Treasurys hit nearly a four-year high, and corporate debt has traded firm against the rising government rates.

The gust of selling in the Treasury market cleared the way for more cyclical, financial and value stocks to improve relative to the big growth stocks that have been largely in pullback mode since before Labor Day. Bank shares in the S&P 500 last week gained more than 6%, while the small-cap Russell 2000 managed a gain versus about a 2% decline for big momentum stocks as a group.

All this is encouraging as far as it goes, implying investors are gaining comfort with a solid growth trajectory into 2021, perhaps boosted by another fiscal infusion, without new Covid-related restrictions undercutting the recovery.

The ‘reflation’ trade

Still, it’s worth considering other drivers of the backup in yields and related equity reactions.

Fidelity’s head of macro strategy Jurrien Timmer last week notes that Treasury yields have simply been catching up to other indicators of a “reflation” trade that have been working for a while.

The idea here is, assets geared to a global economic quickening have been climbing off their post-Covid lows for months, making the yield rise a belated and grudging follower and not a harbinger of fresh insight about the economy.

Bond folks are also pointing out the yield move coincided with commentary by Federal Reserve officials casting some doubt on any plans for the Fed to shift its buying to longer-dated Treasurys to suppress their yields as the government prepares to ramp up its debt issuance to fund the deficit. And hedging by mortgage-securities holders could have accelerated the bump in yields.

Some technical factors, too, might restrain further lift in yields. The 10-year Treasury yield has just levitated enough to meet its steeply down-sloping 200-day average, a potential friction area for the yield rally on a first approach.

Bank of America noted Friday that the spread between U.S. and German 10-year government yields has grown to multi-month highs. At a time when currency hedges are inexpensive and the dollar weak, this should draw overseas buyers to Treasurys to capture richer yields – and ultimately to cap them

Yields trigger value stock move

Whether the start of a long-running expansion in yields or not, the action in bonds is enabling another attempt by value stocks to narrow their yawning performance gap against growth-company shares.

The Russell 1000 Value index relative to the Russell 1000 Growth measure has gained some traction, and to some eyes, is building a foundation for further comeback.

Still, the prominent spike in this relationship back in June also generated enthusiastic calls that the long-awaited renaissance for value strategies was at hand. The peak of Treasury yields and value relative performance was June 8, days after a surprisingly strong jobs report and at a peak of “reopening the economy” enthusiasm. What followed was a reversal in value, a pullback in the S&P 500 as the Sunbelt Covid-case surge unfolded, a strong bond rally and three months of furious Big Tech growth-stock outperformance.

There is no handy way to determine if this display of reflationary energy in financial markets is another head fake. But it makes sense to stay alert to the possibility.

Meantime, the broad stock market has pulled itself into a neutral, somewhat indecisive condition.

‘Mixed, muddled and inconclusive’

On one hand, the S&P sagged a couple of times last week toward the 3400 area, which traders consider the border between its recent breakout range and the former correction zone. The index finished off half a percent for the week, some 3.5% below its early-September peak.

The broadening out of the tape allowed the index to withstand diminishing hopes of a quick stimulus deal and absorb further pressure from mega-cap Nasdaq stocks without breaking its uptrend. Yet that Nasdaq pressure reflects some fatigue among former leaders. Amazon, Apple, Tesla and Zoom Video, to name just a few, have struggled, while homebuilders, semiconductors and cloud-software have come off the boil.

Stocks of companies reporting results responded without much enthusiasm, even for big upside surprises, a sign investors already assumed good numbers were on the way.

And while this looks like benign ebb-and-flow at the index level, investor sentiment and positioning has not reset much from fairly aggressive postures. This is evident in hedge-fund leverage, rampant speculation in upside call options, individual-investor attitudes and general commentary implying most everyone is looking to catch a post-election rally no matter the outcome.

At the end of last week, Citi strategist Tobias Levkovich wrote, “The backdrop for the equity market is mixed, muddled and inconclusive.” Investors leaning bullish, valuations fairly stout, indexes hard-pressed to rise easily without dominant growth stocks working and the Street attitudes toward the election swinging from intense anxiety in September to confidence that any outcome is market-friendly now.

Last week’s lethargic action could well be the market’s chewing through these issues and creating a chance for both bulls and bears to second-guess their views. For what it’s worth, one of the strongest seasonal stretches of the calendar starts early this coming week, just as industrial and Big Tech earnings bombard the market.

Through it all should come a few more hints of whether the bond market’s upbeat-seeming message is worth heeding.

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China to reveal its five-year (FYP) growth strategy in Xi Jinping era

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One technique for staying upbeat during the pandemic

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As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, it can be difficult to remain upbeat.

Aside from the health implications and associated financial stressors, uncertainty over the outcome of the virus has eroded one of the key contributors to our overall happiness, making optimism hard to obtain.

“A sense of control is very important for happiness,” Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of “The Optimism Bias,” told CNBC Make It.

Indeed, in her research during the height of lockdowns, Sharot and her peers at University College London found that control was the number one contributor to people’s overall level of happiness: Those who felt they had a sense of agency in their day-to-day lives were far happier than those who did not.

In the months since then, people have adapted to the pandemic and the average person’s happiness level has returned to a “baseline,” said Sharot, describing happiness like a treadmill.

Tali Sharot, cognitive neuroscientist at University College London and author of “The Optimism Bias”

Tali Sharot

“You can go up and down, but people do converge to a certain baseline of happiness,” she said. “That’s true when things are very, very difficult; they eventually find their way back to that baseline. But also when things are good; after a while, they adapt to these good things and go back to the baseline.”

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find new ways to boost our happiness levels, said Sharot.

One of the best ways of doing that is to start making plans, or what she calls “anticipatory events.” Such tactics can not only help us regain feelings of excitement but also that sense of control, she said.

Anticipation makes us happy in and of itself.

Tali Sharot

cognitive neuroscientist, University College London

“Anticipation makes us happy in and of itself,” said Sharot. Indeed, in a 2010 Dutch study of close to 1,000 holidaymakers, researchers found that the act of planning a holiday contributes a greater boost to respondents’ happiness levels than the aftermath of the trip itself.

Of course, planning for the future can be easier said than done right now. With so many unknowns ahead and further potential lockdowns looming, it can be difficult to arrange anything with certainty.

However, such plans don’t need to be huge or immovable. They could range from vacation for next summer to smaller highlights like dinner with friends, watching a movie or going on a hike.

“It’s important to still get into the habit of making those plans, putting them in the diary, and having things that we can look forward to,” she said.

Don’t miss: Why optimism could be unhelpful in a pandemic, according to behavioral psychologists

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