Asian stocks, commodities in broad sell-off on jitters over Cyprus deal

Tuesday, 19 March 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Stocks and commodities fell sharply in Asia on Monday as investors were rattled by a radical bailout plan for Cyprus and piled into safer assets including the US Dollar, gold and sovereign debt.

European markets are also expected to fall, with financial spread-betters predicting London’s FTSE 100, Paris’s CAC-40 and Frankfurt’s DAX to open down as much as 2%.

A 1.4% slide in US stock futures suggested a lower Wall Street start as well.

Cyprus and international lenders agreed at the weekend that savers in the island’s outsized banking system would take a hit in return for the offer of 10 billion Euros (US$ 13.07 billion) in aid, breaking with previous European Union practice that depositors’ savings are sacrosanct and raising fears that it could set a precedent for future Euro zone bailouts.

The MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slumped 1.8% to its lowest level since 2 January. It was the steepest one-day fall since late July.

The materials sector led the decline with a 2.2% slide as London copper shed 1.8% to US$ 7,610 a metric ton. Resources-reliant Australian shares plunged 2%.

“What happened is best described as a precautionary sell-off by the markets, some profit taking and some lighting positions, in case this situation escalates,” CMC Markets in Sydney chief market analyst Ric Spooner said.

“But it’s too early to make that call we have to see what happens from here. First step will be to see what Cyprus’ Parliament does. If they reject these measures, then markets may at the least see some increased uncertainty in the period of negotiations,” he said.

Crude oil and Brent both tumbled 1.1% to US$ 92.46 and to US$ 108.62 a barrel respectively.

Assets perceived as safe-haven were bolstered by the sharp risk aversion, pushing spot gold as much as 1% higher to a three-week high of US$ 1,608.30 an ounce earlier. Bullion was last trading up 0.4% at US$ 1,597.81.

“It’s a Cyprus shock. The Euro fell, and crude followed that lower,” Newedge in Tokyo commodity sales manager Ken Hasegawa said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s becoming an uncertain factor.”

Cyprus was working on a last-minute proposal to soften the impact of a bank deposit levy on smaller savers ahead of a parliamentary vote on Monday on the measure central to the bailout.

The Dollar strengthened 0.7% to 82.824 against a basket of major currencies, inching closer to a seven-month high of 83.166 hit last Thursday. The Euro touched a three-week low of US$ 1.2888.

Investors flocking for safety drove yields down for benchmark Government bonds in Asia. The 10-year Japanese Government bond yield fell to 0.590%, just above a 10-year low of 0.585% hit on 4 March.

Australia’s three-year cash yields shed 15 basis points to 2.96%, the biggest daily drop since May last year. Ten-year US Treasury yield plunged eight bps to 1.91% in Asia.

Asian credit markets faltered along with the significant retreat in broad risk assets, widening the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index by eight bps.

Risk markets have seen similarly big one-day moves over the past few months, and despite today’s moves, markets have so far remained within the trading range of the past several months.

But since much of the market rally so far this year has been based on an assumption that short-term risks were significantly reduced, some of buying momentum could be wound down if such a view were to change.

The Yen rose broadly early in the session, briefly touching 93.45 Yen against the Dollar and 121.585 Yen against the Euro, as well as gaining nearly two full Yen against the risk-sensitive Australian Dollar. The Yen stabilised later to stand at 94.61 Yen against the Dollar and 98.04 against the Aussie.

The Yen’s rebound weighed on Japanese shares, with the Nikkei stock average slipping 1.9%.

While uncertainty over how the broader Euro zone markets react to Cyprus’ news later on Monday weighed on sentiment in Asia, some say fears of contagion risk are overdone.

“There will certainly be confusion in Cyprus and investors looking just at headlines may fret about its case becoming a model,” Credit Agricole in Tokyo foreign exchange director Yuji Saito said.

“I doubt that the case in Cyprus will trigger contagion risks across the Euro zone, as the size of the country is too small and its industrial structure is very different from other Euro zone members, in that Cyprus is dependent on just tourism and the financial sector,” Saito said. (US$ 1 = 0.7654 Euros)