Asia shares worn down by trade tension, yen a safe harbour

Published: September 07, 2018 11:25:21 | Updated: September 08, 2018 12:15:01

A pedestrian walks past an electronic board showing the graph of the recent fluctuations of Japan's Nikkei average outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, February 3, 2016. Reuters/File Photo

Asian shares carved out a 14-month trough on Friday as investors feared a new salvo of Sino-US tariffs could come at any moment, while a slump in US chip stocks rippled through the tech-heavy region.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.4 per cent, having earlier reached its lowest since mid-July last year.

The Nikkei shed 1.0 per cent, undermined by a rising yen and reports US President Donald Trump could be contemplating taking on Japan over trade.

Chinese blue chips managed a 0.8 per cent bounce as beaten-down health care stocks found buyers after taking a savaging in recent months amid vaccine scandals.

Emerging markets in the region were struggling to steady after a punishing week, with Indonesia and the Philippines still badly scarred by fears of capital flight following crises in Argentina and Turkey.

Nerves were set to be frayed further as the public comment period for proposed tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese imports ends at 0400 GMT. The tariffs could go into effect shortly afterward, though there was no clear timetable.

China has warned of retaliation if Washington launches any new measures.

“It seems unlikely the tariffs are not implemented as the U.S. administration believes that they are winning the trade war and will be in a stronger position to negotiate if they put more pressure on China,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a note.

“The tech sector was also very weak overnight, with a slide in Micron of almost 10 percent and further weakness in the Chinese Internet ADRs.”

Wall Street saw sharp losses in chipmakers and concerns about increased regulation of social media companies.

The S&P 500 lost 0.37 per cent and the Nasdaq 0.91 per cent, while the Dow eked out a 0.08 per cent gain.

Watching wages

Eyes were now turned to the US payrolls report for August which is expected to show a robust rise of 191,000, in part as July was temporarily depressed by the closure of the Toys R Us chain that month.

Still, analysts at NatWest Markets cautioned that: “Despite employment indicators pointing to another strong report, it is worth noting that there is a tendency for August payrolls to initially disappoint and then be revised up noticeably later.”

Just as important will be figures on US wages where a rise above the 0.2 per cent forecasted would likely boost the dollar and pressure Treasury prices.

The dollar could do with the lift, having lost out to the safe-haven yen and Swiss franc. It was changing hands at 110.58 yen after falling 0.7 per cent on Thursday, the sharpest one-day loss in seven weeks.

Part of the decline came after a Wall Street Journal columnist reported Trump had mused about starting a trade fight with Japan.

The dollar also hit a four-month low on the franc around $0.9645. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was flat at 95.022 and off the week’s top of 95.737.

The euro was holding steady at $1.1620, while sterling idled at $1.2926 amid ongoing uncertainty over Brexit negotiations.

In commodity markets, the dip in the dollar left gold a sliver higher at $1,202.81 an ounce, Reuters reported.

Crude oil was subdued after falling more than 1.0 per cent on Thursday when US data showed gasoline inventories rose unexpectedly last week.

Brent was 5.0 cents lower at $76.45 a barrel, while US crude edged up 2.0 cents to $67.79.

Share if you like