Asian shares gain on signs lockdowns could easeAsian shares gain on signs lockdowns could ease
People wearing protective face masks, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, are reflected on a screen showing Nikkei index, outside a brokerage in Tokyo

By Stanley White and Scott Murdoch

TOKYO/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Most Asian shares made gains while U.S. stock futures fell on Tuesday amid choppy trade as a renewed decline in oil prices partially offset optimism about the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.MIAPJ0000PUS> was up 0.34%. China’s CSI300 index <.CSI300> rose 0.65%. South Korean shares <.KS11> gained 0.6%, while Japan’s Nikkei <.N225> was little changed.

Euro Stoxx 50 futures <STXEc1> were up 0.11%, German DAX futures <FDXc1> climbed 0.28%, and FTSE futures <FFIc1> rose 0.27%, suggesting European shares could rise at the start of trade.

Oil futures slumped after the largest U.S. oil exchange-traded fund said it would sell all its front-month crude contracts to avoid further losses as prices collapse due to concerns over weak demand, oversupply and a shortage of storage capacity.

Shares of United States Oil Fund LP <USO.P>, the country’s largest crude ETF, fell more than 16% on Monday, after it said it would sell all of its front-month crude contracts to avoid a repeat of the heavy losses suffered last week.

U.S. crude <CLc1> skidded 13.6% to $11.06 a barrel while Brent crude <LCOc1> fell 4.4% to $19.11 per barrel.

As more countries allow businesses to re-open following lockdowns to contain coronavirus outbreaks, some investors are hoping the worst may be over for the world economy, but others remained cautious, especially as a vaccine has yet to be developed..

From Italy to New Zealand, governments announced the easing of restrictions, while Britain said it was too early to relax them there. New York state is not expected to reopen for weeks.

“There is optimism about parts of the U.S. and Europe starting to open up, that is making every one feel confident but the hard data is only starting to come out now, we haven’t seen exactly what the impact will be,” Karen Jorritsma, Australian equities head at RBC Capital Markets, said.

A rush of capital raisings underway in Australia held investors attention in the Asian region on Tuesday, Elizabeth Tian, Citigroup’s equity derivatives director, said.

Refinitiv data showed it was the busiest period for the Australian capital markets since the 2009 recovery from the global financial crisis when companies rushed to restore their balance sheets.

Listed companies have raised A$13.2 billion ($9.00 billion) since February, with Lendlease <LLC.AX> in the process of raising A$1.15 billion on Tuesday, a day after National Australia Bank <NAB.AX> raised A$3.5 billion ($2.26 billion).

“Now it feels like funds are putting money to work in the raisings at decent discounts here locally,” Tian said.

The U.S. dollar and the euro were little changed as traders refrained from taking big positions before a U.S. Federal Reserve policy decision due on Wednesday and a European Central Bank (ECB) meeting on Thursday.

The Fed has already announced a raft of measures to cushion the blow to the economy from the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. central bank is expected to stay on hold this week.

The ECB is likely to extend its debt purchases to include junk bonds and provide a backstop for corporate financing.

Major central banks have responded to the economic slump caused by the coronavirus by slashing interest rates, buying more government debt, and taking steps to increase lending to small companies.

The slide in oil prices knocked the Australian dollar <AUD=D3> off a six-week high of $0.6457. The Aussie is often traded as a proxy for risk because it has close links to global commodities and China’s economy.

The New Zealand dollar <NZD=D3> also fell amid speculation the country’s central bank could cut interest rates into negative territory later this year.

Gold <XAU=>, a safe-haven often bought during times of uncertainty, fell 1.25% to $1,697 per ounce. The precious metal weakened for a third consecutive trading session, signaling a recovery in risk appetite.

(Reporting by Stanley White in Tokyo and Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; Editing by Sam Holmes & Simon Cameron-Moore)