Lunar New Year closes most Asian markets

07_Lunar New Year closes most Asian markets

By Jemima Kelly
(Australian Associated Press)

European shares have plunged to 16-month lows, extending an aggressive sell-off, while bond yields and oil also fell as investors shed risky assets on persistent concern over the pace of global growth.

Data over the weekend showing China’s foreign reserves fell for a third straight month in January, as US dollars were dumped to defend the yuan and curb capital outflows, did nothing to calm investors. Though the fall was less than some had feared, it was the second biggest on record.

That followed a mixed US jobs report on Friday that had sent stocks on Wall Street lower.

Crude oil futures skidded over 2 per cent to just over $US33 by 1015 GMT (2115 AEDT) on Monday, as a meeting between OPEC producers Saudi Arabia and Venezuela provided little indication that steps would be taken to boost prices. Earlier, oil had gained as much as 1 per cent on hopes that an agreement would be reached to curb supply.

With sentiment firmly in risk-off mode, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 fell 2.3 per cent to 1,253.33 points, its lowest level since October 2014.

“It’s a difficult market environment – I would have hoped for a rebound in the market but after the last week’s actions, certainly this is off the table,” said Baader Bank’s head of equity strategy in Munich, Gerhard Schwarz. “The economic newsflow has to improve. So far it hasn’t on a decisive scale.”

Europe’s losses pushed the MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 45 countries, down 0.4 per cent, taking its losses for the month so far to around 3 per cent already. January was the worst month since August for the index, with losses of over 6 per cent.

A launch by North Korea of a long-range rocket carrying what it called a satellite also sparked concern and drew international condemnation.

Earlier, Asian shares had pared losses as a weaker yen helped Japan’s Nikkei snap a four-day losing streak, though trade was thin with many regional markets closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.1 per cent, with Australian shares slipping a few points to end nearly flat.

But Japan’s Nikkei erased early steep losses as the US dollar gained on the yen, and ended up 1.1 per cent.

Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China were all closed for the new year holiday. China, a focus of recent market concern, will be closed for the entire week.

Beijing has been struggling to underpin the yuan, which faces depreciation pressure as China’s growth rate slows to its lowest levels in a quarter of a century.

“The Chinese currency is under quite notable market pressure and that requires quite active intervention from the authorities,” said Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ currency economist Lee Hardman in London. “That poses downside risk to Asian currencies and the Aussie, which is seen as the China proxy.”

The US non-farm payrolls report on Friday showed an increase of just 151,000 jobs last month, short of expectations for a rise of 190,000.

But the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent, the lowest since February 2008, and wages rose, indicating some underlying strength in the labour market despite the weak headline figure .

Weak US economic data recently has led investors to pare back their bets on steady interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve.

Speculators slashed bullish bets on the US dollar for a sixth straight week through February 2, as net longs fell to their lowest level since roughly the third week of October, according to Reuters calculations and data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released on Friday.

The US dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, fell 0.2 per cent on Monday to 96.841, approaching a trough of 96.259 plumbed last Thursday, its lowest since October.

The yen, which is typically bought at times of risk aversion, gained 0.1 per cent against the US dollar to trade at Y116.68.


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