Asia shares roiled by risk aversion; yen rallies

Saturday, 4 January 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Asian share markets were under water on Friday after a sudden reversal in some very popular, and thus crowded, trades sparked a bout of global risk aversion. The net result was a pullback in the euro, sterling, and stocks and a bounce for the yen, gold and bonds. Oil prices had also taken a spill, though for purely idiosyncratic reasons. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 1%, with markets from Shanghai to Sydney all in the red. The various moves seemed divorced from the news flow, which was mostly upbeat with global manufacturing ending 2013 on a strong note as the United States, Japan and Germany all saw demand pick up. The fly in the ointment was China where a measure of activity in the services sector eased back in December, just as one for manufacturing had on Thursday. The next hurdle later Friday will be a spate of speeches from top Federal Reserve policy makers, including outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke. Any comments on the outlook for tapering could affect market sentiment, for good or bad. On Thursday, the Dow had ended down 0.82% while the S&P 500 lost 0.89%. MSCI’s 45-country share index slipped 1%. In Asia, anxious eyes were fixed on Thailand as deepening political uncertainty lopped another 0.5% off stocks, on top of a 5% decline on Thursday. The Thai currency also took a bath, hitting its lowest since early 2010 at 33.03 per dollar. Shares in South Korea shed 1.1%, though there the problem was one of a strong won and a weak yen undermining the competitiveness of the country’s huge export companies. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd was down over 1%, on top of a 5% decline on Thursday, and at its lowest since August. The country’s Finance Minister, Hyun Oh-seok, reiterated that they were closely watching the won and the ongoing depreciation of the yen, but went no further than that.       Euro setback In currencies, the euro took a spill as speculators booked profits on long positions after a strong 2013. The common currency was stuck at $ 1.3662 after shedding a full cent overnight. The same forces gripped sterling, another strong performer in recent months. The pound peeled away to $ 1.6441 from a 28-month peak of $ 1.6605. Going the other way, the yen enjoyed a short-covering bounce. Borrowing in yen to buy higher yielding assets has been a vastly popular trade, leaving the market vulnerable to sudden, if usually brief, reversals. In this case the dollar came off to 104.25 yen after being as high as 105.44 on Thursday, its strongest level since October 2008. Likewise, the euro retreated to 142.45 yen from a peak of 145.12 on Thursday. The short-covering theme extended to US Treasury debt, which has been under pressure for pretty much all of the past two months. Yields on the 10-year note dipped to 2.99% from a top of 3.04%, which had been the highest since mid-2011. Gold was another beaten-down asset to get a reprieve. The metal swung up to $ 1,230.30 having been as low as $ 1,183.80 early in the week. Oil prices steadied after taking a fall on Thursday as Libya prepared to restart a major oilfield and on speculation of a sharp rise in crude stockpiles in the United States. Brent crude edged up 5 cents to $ 107.86 a barrel but that followed a drop of $ 2.98 on Thursday. US crude was off 5 cents at $ 95.39, having shed almost $ 5 the day before.