Asia shares bounce after rout, but sentiment fragile

Published: October 12, 2018 11:56:16 | Updated: October 15, 2018 14:17:21

People walk past an electronic board showing Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, October 12, 2018. Reuters

Asian shares found a slightly firmer footing on Friday to set course for their first gains in two weeks, but the rout continued in Shanghai where shares hit lows last seen in 2014.

Investor sentiment was frail though as Wall Street’s fear gauge rose to an eight-month high, pointing to more downside risk, market sources said.

The biggest market shakeout since February has been blamed on a series of factors, including worries about the impact of a Sino-US trade war, a spike in US bond yields this week and caution ahead of earnings seasons.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS rose 1.3 per cent, led by gains in South Korea and Taiwan.

The MSCI index fell 3.6 per cent on Thursday to hit a 1-and-a-1/2 year low. It is on track for a weekly loss of more than 4 per cent.

Japan's Nikkei average .N225 fell 0.5 per cent while the Shanghai Composite .SSEC dropped as much as 1.8 per cent to the lowest levels since late 2014, taking losses so far this week to almost 10 per cent.

Wall Street offered Asia a weak lead overnight with the US S&P 500 .SPX falling just over 2 per cent to a three-month low, following a 3.29 per cent drop on Wednesday.

“The (U.S. share) market is now about 7 percent off of its 100-day high, but this is far from a rare occurrence historically,” economists at RBC Capital Markets wrote in a research note.

“Indeed, history is littered with over 5 percent-ish type selloffs in the midst of economic expansions,” they said.

The futures of the US index ESc1 rebounded 0.6 per cent in Asian trade on Friday, in part helped by media report that the US Treasury Department will not call China a currency manipulator in its upcoming semiannual report.

However, Chinese trade figures on Friday showed China’s trade surplus with the United States hit a record high in September, providing a likely source of contention with US President Donald Trump over trade policies and the currency.

The data showed solid expansion in China’s overall imports and exports, suggesting little damage from the tit-for-tat tariffs with the United States.

CBOE Volatility index .VIX rose on Thursday to its highest close since February 12, pointing to investors concern of further losses in markets.

“There still appears to be downside risk to the market amid worries the Sino-U.S. trade war may be slowing down global growth,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management in Tokyo.

So far this week, Chinese and US shares are among the worst performers in a sign investor worries about the trade war are deepening.

MSCI’s US index .MIUS00000PUS has shed 5.5 per cent, compared with a 4.9 per cent fall for MSCI’s gauge of stock performance in 47 countries .MIWD00000PUS.

Gold XAU=, typically seen as a safe-haven asset at times of high uncertainty, held steady on Friday.

It fetched $1,221.9 per ounce, keeping the 2.5 per cent gain from Thursday, which was its biggest percentage rise since June 2016.

The yield on 10-year US notes edged up 3.6 basis points in Asia to 3.167 per cent US10YT=RR.

It is still off its seven-year high of 3.261 per cent touched on Tuesday, but a further rise in the US borrowing costs could hurt risk sentiment.

“Asian stocks appeared to have stabilized but ultimately where U.S. bond yields will settle down will be key,” said Teppei Ino, senior analyst at MUFG Bank.

Adding confusion for investors, Trump launched a second day of criticism of the Federal Reserve on Thursday, calling its interest rate increases a “ridiculous” policy.

While that does not appear to have shaken investor confidence in the Fed’s independence, some investors suspect expectations on future rate hikes could be undermined if Trump raises his threats levels.

“I doubt Trump will tolerate further rise in U.S. rates ahead of U.S. mid-term elections. I believe the rise in U.S. yields and the dollar’s rally are coming to a turning point,” said Naoki Iwami, fixed income chief investment officer at Whiz Partners in Tokyo.

Lower US yields on Thursday helped push the dollar lower against a basket of major currencies.

The euro ticked up slightly to $1.1605 EUR=, after a gain of 0.65 per cent on Thursday.

But the yen JPY= eased to 112.35 to the dollar after hitting a three-week high of 111.83 on Thursday.

The Chinese yuan weakened about 0.3 per cent, giving up some of the gains it had made the previous day, according to Reuters news agency.

Oil prices bounced back on Friday.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 rose 0.5 per cent to $80.66 a barrel, holding off a four-year high of $86.74 touched on Oct 3.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 edged up 0.44 per cent to $71.28 a barrel, also off its multi-year highs touched last week.

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