Shares pause after US jobs, eye monetary policy

March 12, 2012

A man walks past screens showing the Nikkei stock average and stock quotation boards in Tokyo March 9, 2012. — Reuters  pic A man walks past screens showing the Nikkei stock average and stock quotation boards in Tokyo March 9, 2012. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, March 12 — Asian shares fell today as investors paused to assess the effect of strong US jobs data, which scaled back expectations for more easing ahead of this week’s Federal Reserve meeting, while concerns over China’s slowdown also weighed on sentiment.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index eased 0.3 per cent after rising as much as 1.3 per cent on Friday but ended the week down some 1.5 per cent.

Japan’s Nikkei average rose to a fresh seven-month high in early trade today after jumping more than 2 per cent at one point on Friday to top the 10,000 mark for the first time in seven months.

The dollar hovered around three-week highs against a basket of major currencies today and also held gains against the yen at ¥82.36 yen, after touching a near 11-month high of ¥82.64 yen on Friday. The euro steadied at US$1.3118, above Friday’s low of US$1.3097.

US employers added more than 200,000 workers to their payrolls for a third straight month in February, data showed on Friday, a sign the economy was strengthening and in less need of further monetary stimulus from the Fed, which holds its policy meeting tomorrow.

Greece averted the immediate threat of an uncontrolled default when a sufficient number of private creditors agreed on a bond swap deal on Friday that will cut the country’s public debt and clear the way for a new bailout.

While concerns about Europe’s debt crisis will not fade away with the completion of the Greece debt swap deal, focus for now will likely shift to global growth and monetary policy, Barclays Capital analysts said.

“Although we do not expect any significant changes in policy, a reiteration of dovish rhetoric may help maintain the underlying support for risky assets ... An improving US labour market has reduced the likelihood of QE3 further. As a result, other low-yielding currencies such as the JPY and CHF will remain under pressure against the USD,” they said.

While US data continued to show a recovery trend, economic conditions were dire in Europe and mixed in China.

Data over the weekend showed China’s trade balance plunged US$31.5 billion (RM94.71 billion) into the red in February as imports swamped exports to leave the largest deficit in at least a decade and fuel doubts about the extent to which frail foreign demand or seasonal distortion drove the drop.

Australian shares fell 0.4 per cent as signs the Chinese economy, the world’s second-largest, is slowing have raised concerns for investors in companies that have a large business exposure there. China is Australia’s top trade partner and the largest consumer of its resources.

Recent data showed China’s inflation cooled in February, while retail sales and industrial output came in below forecast.

Greece relief shortlived

Greece’s successful debt restructuring brought some relief to riskier assets on Friday, but poor euro zone growth prospects and fears Portugal may also impose losses on creditors were likely to limit the fall in yields on weaker sovereign bonds.

The rally in the sovereign debts of Italy, Spain and Portugal after the Greek news was short-lived, with the drop in their yields limited.

The new Greek bonds which investors get when swapping their current holdings were quoted in the grey, pre-issue market with yields of 15-21 per cent, well above 11-14 per cent for Portuguese bonds.

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the arbiter of rules governing the sale and use of credit default swaps, said on Friday Greece triggered the payment on CDS, which act as insurance contracts on defaults or credit restructurings, but did not see a big market impact.

A maximum of US$3.16 billion of net outstanding Greek CDS contracts could be paid out, although the actual amount is likely to be lower because bondholders are not losing all of their original investment. About 93 per cent of CDS contracts are collateralized, meaning investors and dealers hold collateral on their books to cover potential payouts. ISDA said an auction will be held to determine the actual payout amounts on March 19.

Sentiment in Asian credit markets improved slightly, narrowing the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index by about 2 basis points early today. — Reuters 


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