Asia shares, growth assets hit by economy worries

Wednesday, 7 March 2012 00:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Asian shares and other growth-linked assets fell on Tuesday as slowing economies in China and Europe and tension over Iran dampened sentiment, prompting investors to take profits from recent rallies that had been driven by ample liquidity.

 China’s move to lower its growth target and data pointing to Europe possibly slipping back into recession eroded the optimism that had been setting the tone for global markets since late in December, after the European Central Bank’s first massive liquidity injection.

Ample liquidity has stabilised markets and mitigated concerns about a crisis triggered by European banks’ financing difficulties, but uncertainty about global economic prospects led investors to trim their risk exposure. Oil remained an exception, as the risk of supply disruptions underpinned prices.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index .MIAPJ0000PUS fell 1.1 percent, dragged lower by Chinese shares and the pan-Asian mining sector .MIAPJMT00OUS. Tokyo’s Nikkei average .N225 slipped 0.4 percent.

Resource-reliant Australian shares fell on worries over weak demand from China and its currency hit a one-week low around $1.0645. The New Zealand dollar plumbed a five-week low at $0.8166.

Copper, typically driven by demand outlook, fell. London copper eased 0.5 percent to $8,464 a tonne and Shanghai copper fell 1 percent to 60,540 yuan a tonne.

“I’m seeing this as a significant correction after a strong rally at the beginning of the year,” said Greg Gibbs, strategist at RBS in Sydney.

Some analysts, however, said markets need not be too worried about China cutting its growth target to an eight-year low of 7.5 percent, from 8 percent, and shifting its priorities towards boosting domestic consumer demand.

“There is no need to be so pessimistic about slowing demand from China,” said Chiyuki Shiraiwa, economist at SMBC Nikko Securities. “Boosting domestic consumption will strengthen demand for a variety of goods from overseas, broadening opportunities beyond resource-rich countries to export to China”

Hong Kong shares .HSI and Shanghai equities .SSEC both slid more than 1 percent.

Sentiment in Asian credit markets was also cautious, with the spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index widening by a couple of basis points.

Oil outperformed other asset classes, as the tension over Iran’s standoff with the West kept upward pressure on prices.

U.S. President Barack Obama appealed to Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to give sanctions time to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the Israeli prime minister offered no sign of backing away from possible military action, saying his country must be the “master of its fate”.

Brent crude held near $124 a barrel while U.S. crude edged up closer to $107 a barrel on Tuesday. <O/R>

Profit-taking in other assets kept the euro steady near $1.3216, off Monday’s two-week low of $1.3160, while bearish technical outlook kept gold sluggish. Spot gold eased 0.1 percent to $1,703 a tonne.

“There is very little incentive to buy gold at the moment, keeping prices sideways,” said Yuichi Ikemizu, branch manager for Standard Bank in Tokyo. “But there is also no sign that investors are moving funds out of gold to other assets, given no change in factors supporting gold,” he said.

Among such factors is the uncertainty surrounding Greece, which needs to complete a bond exchange with private holders, scheduled to close on March 8, before a second bailout is paid.

It is still not clear how much participation Athens will see for its bond swap and a failure to agree on the swap would put the country back on the brink of a messy default, and could reignite fears about the collapse of the single currency.

Greece’s major bondholders voiced their support on Monday for a deal that will halve the value of their debt holdings and aims to put the country back on a sustainable debt-repayment footing.

“This uncertainty is likely to weigh on risk appetite and European assets (including the EUR), as well as boost safe haven assets (such as the USD and JPY) in the near-term,” Barclays Capital analysts said.

In addition to China’s scaled back growth forecast, Markit’s Eurozone Composite PMI gauging the activity of manufacturing and services companies on Monday showed it slipped to 49.3 in February from January’s of 50.4.