Asian shares struggle

Friday, 11 May 2012 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

TOKYO (Reuters): Asian shares struggled on Thursday, as a weak Chinese trade data stoked fears of a growth slowdown and further undermined risk appetite already reduced by worries about the health of Spanish banks and deepening political chaos in Greece.

European shares will likely open mixed, with financial spreadbetters predicting that major European markets  would open between a 0.3 percent rise and a 0.4 percent fall. U.S. stock futures were up 0.2 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, which has declined for the past five days, last stood nearly flat after bouncing between positive and negative territory. During the session it fell as much as 0.3 percent to its lowest in nearly four months and briefly rose as much as 0.5 percent on strong Australian jobs data that was released before China’s April trade figures.

The trade data raised doubts about the strength of the rebound in the world’s second-biggest economy.

“Both export and import figures gave the market a downside surprise,” said Jiang Chao, analyst at Guotai Junan Securities in Shanghai’ “We had expected China’s export growth to reach a trough by the end of the second quarter, but now I think we will have to revise down our trade forecast for the full year.”

The Australian dollar initially strengthened on strong jobs data, which scaled back expectations for further aggressive monetary easing. But with the currency sensitive to data from China, Australia’s biggest single export market, the gains were pared by Beijing’s disappointing trade numbers.

The Aussie last stood up 0.6 percent at $1.0098, slipping from an earlier high of $1.0120. On Wednesday, it touched $1.0021, its lowest since December 20.

The Australian stock market lost most of its gains to stand nearly flat after rising earlier on buoyancy in miners, which bounced back on cautiously upbeat comments from world No. 3 miner, Rio Tinto Ltd.

Oil fell as weak Chinese trade data fuelled concerns about demand, sending U.S. crude down 0.2 percent at $96.64 a barrel and Brent down 0.3 percent at $112.82 a barrel.

Japan’s Nikkei share average fell 0.1 percent. .T

Asian credit markets weakened, with the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index widening by 2 basis points.

The euro inched up 0.1 percent at $1.2945. But it remained near $1.29115 hit on Wednesday, its lowest since January 23, pressured by fears a political vacuum in Greece could put the highly indebted country on course for insolvency and a messy exit from the euro.

“Even under the current chaotic situation, the euro/dollar basically has been dictated by interest rate differentials between Europe and the U.S. and fiscal premiums, with the fiscal premiums keeping the euro depressed,” said Taisuke Tanaka, chief FX strategist, Japan, at Deutsche Securities.

“There is no clear way out of the current situation in Europe, keeping the euro volatile in a core range of $1.25-$1.35, or widely $1.20-$1.40, this year. Because investors are building the euro shorts and cutting back on euro assets, a stabilizing situation will prompt them to unwind the euro shorts and to trim their underweighting of euro assets, giving some support to the euro,” he said.

Spain took over Bankia, the country’s fourth-biggest lender, on Wednesday, aiming to dispel concerns over the government’s ability to clean up the financial sector.

But uncertainty over how much is needed to recapitalize banks pushed benchmark Spanish government bond yields back above 6 percent on Wednesday.

Greek politicians will strive to form a government on Thursday to avoid a new election, but prospects looked dim for a compromise as parties for and against an EU/IMF bailout that comes with strict conditions were split almost down the middle in the new parliament.

Greece appeared to have averted an imminent funding crisis, however, after the board of the European Financial Stability Facility agreed to a scheduled 5.2 billion euro ($6.72 billion) payment. Some analysts caution about a further, sharp acceleration in risk aversion.

“Equity vol indices already show that the market is hesitating to stay in a regime of deep stress,” said Sebastien Galy, a strategist at Societe Generale, adding that the CBOE Volatility index .VIX, a gauge of how investors perceive risk, “hesitates to move to the 20-30 regime of stress.”

A rise in the index reflects mounting risk aversion. “The battle between better economic data and depressed investor sentiment is yet to reach its final conclusion,” he said.

The VIX index, which measures expected volatility in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the next 30 days, rose 5.4 percent to 20.08 on Wednesday.