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Shares rise, yen climbs as BOJ battles bond bears

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SYDNEY/LONDON — Shares firmed on Monday as optimism over corporate earnings and China’s reopening offset concerns the Bank of Japan (BOJ) might temper its super-sized stimulus policy at a pivotal meeting this week, while a holiday in U.S. markets made for thin trading.

The yen climbed to its highest since May after rumors swirled the BOJ might hold an emergency meeting on Monday as it struggles to defend its new yield ceiling in the face of massive selling.

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That had local markets in an anxious mood, and Japan’s Nikkei slipped 1.3% to a two-week low.

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Yet MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.27%, with hopes for a speedy Chinese reopening giving it a gain of 4.2% last week.

And European shares opened positively with the STOXX 600 up 0.1% by 0850 GMT driven by healthcare stocks which gained 0.6%.

Britain’s benchmark FTSE index edged close to the record high of 7903.50 it hit in 2018, with banks and life insurance companies among the top gainers.

Earnings season gathers steam this week with Goldman Sachs , Morgan Stanley and Netflix among those reporting.

World leaders, policy makers and top corporate chiefs will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, and there are a host of central bankers speaking, including no fewer than nine members of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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The BOJ’s official two-day meeting ends on Wednesday and speculation is rife it will make changes to its yield curve control (YCC) policy given the market has pushed 10-year yields above its new ceiling of 0.5%.

The BOJ bought almost 5 trillion yen ($39.12 billion) of bonds on Friday in its largest daily operation on record, yet 10-year yields still ended the session up at 0.51%.

Early on Monday, the bank offered to buy another 1.3 trillion yen of JGBs, but the yield stuck at 0.51%.

“There is still some possibility that market pressure will force the BOJ to further adjust or exit the YCC,” JPMorgan analysts said in a note. “We can’t ignore this possibility, but at this stage we do not consider it a main scenario.”

“Although domestic demand has started to recover and inflation continues to rise, the economy is not heating up to the extent that a sharp rise in interest rates and potential risk of large yen appreciation can be tolerated,” they added.

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THE YEN UN-ANCHORED

The BOJ’s uber-easy policy has acted as a sort of anchor for yields globally, while dragging down the yen. Were it to abandon the policy, it would put upward pressure on yields across developed markets and most likely see the yen surge.

The dollar has been undermined by falling U.S. bond yields as investors wager the Federal Reserve can be less aggressive in raising rates given inflation has clearly turned the corner.

The Japanese yen rose to a more than seven-month peak against the dollar on Monday, as market sentiment was dominated by expectations that the BOJ would make further tweaks to, or fully abandon, its yield control policy.

The yen jumped roughly 0.5% to a high of 127.215 per dollar, before easing to 128.6 by 0915 GMT.

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The dollar index, which measures the U.S. unit against a basket of major currencies, recovered from a 7-month low touched earlier in the session to be at 102.6.

Futures now imply almost no chance the Fed will raise rates by half a point in February, with a quarter-point move seen as a 94% probability.

Yields on 10-year Treasuries are down at 3.498%, having fallen 6 basis points last week, close to its December trough, and major chart target of 3.402%.

Alan Ruskin, global head of G10 FX Strategy at Deutsche Securities, said the loosening of global supply bottlenecks in recent months was proving to be a disinflationary shock, which increases the chance of a soft landing for the U.S. economy. “The lower inflation itself encourages a soft landing through real wage gains, by allowing the Fed to more readily pause and encouraging a better behaved bond market, with favorable spillovers to financial conditions,” Ruskin said.

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“A soft landing also reduces the tail risk of much higher U.S. rates, and this reduced risk premia helps global risk appetite,” Ruskin added.

Commodities prices which had rallied last week, dipped on Monday.

The drop in yields and the dollar had benefited the gold price, which jumped 2.9% last week, but the precious metal slipped 0.4% to $1,911 an ounce in early trading on Monday .

Oil prices slid as a rise in COVID cases clouded the prospects for a surge in demand as China reopens its economy.

Brent crude fell 73 cents, or 0.83%, to $84.57 a barrel by 0857 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude CLc1 was down 61 cents, or 0.6%, at $79.24 a barrel. ($1 = 127.8000 yen)

(Reporting by Wayne Cole and Lawrence White; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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