Asian Shares, Oil, Skid on Global Growth Worries

SYDNEY (Reuters) -
A man monitors shares prices at a brokerage house in Beijing, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Asian shares stumbled and oil prices fell on Tuesday as pessimism about world growth drove investors away from risky assets, while sterling ticked lower in the face of the latest twists and turns in the Brexit saga.

China got the week off to a shaky start on Monday after Beijing reported 2018 growth in the world’s second-largest economy slowed to its weakest pace in nearly 30 years. Adding to the air of caution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) trimmed its global growth forecasts and a survey showed increasing pessimism among business chiefs as trade tensions loomed.

The gloomy news highlighted the challenges facing policymakers globally as they tackle an array of current or potential crises, from the U.S.-China trade war to Brexit.

Spread-betters point to another weak start for Europe. FTSE futures were off 0.2 percent while U.S. stock futures, which offer an indication of how Wall Street will open, were down about 0.7 percent.

In Asia, losses were led by Chinese shares, with the blue-chip index off 1.2 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was down more than 1 percent and Australia’s main share index faltered 0.5 percent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.9 percent on Tuesday, drifting away from a recent seven-week top.

Japan’s Nikkei, which had opened firmer, skidded 0.7 percent.

U.S. markets were closed on Monday for a holiday so trading was generally subdued overnight. However, equity prices in Europe and Latin America stumbled after the weak Chinese data.

“Concerns over slowing global growth are starting to filter through to financial markets,” said Nick Twidale, Sydney-based analyst at Rakuten Securities Australia.

Those worries sent prices for copper, used in electrical wires and vehicles, drifting lower.

In another sign of risk aversion, the Australian dollar , often used as a liquid proxy for China investments, eased 0.3 percent to $0.7134, putting it on track for a third straight session of losses.

“The focus will be firmly on the U.K. once the London market opens with Brexit news still front of mind for investors,” Twidale added.

“Brexit remains a major concern for U.K. markets, and progress appears to be limited. With deadlines fast approaching and what seems to be a real impasse between the various sides involved, the prospect of a hard ‘no-deal’ Brexit appears to [be] becoming more likely.”

Sterling was a shade weaker at $1.2872 as British Prime Minister Theresa May refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit. There are few signs she can break a deadlock with Parliament after her Brexit deal was rejected last week.

May offered to tweak her defeated deal by seeking further concessions from the European Union on a backup plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

“Any upside for sterling in the near term may be limited,” said Capital Economics analyst Liam Peach. “Uncertainty would continue during the extended negotiations and there is no guarantee that it would last for only a short period of time.”

Analysts said investors were nervous about building positions in the pound, especially given the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Demand for the safe-haven yen kept the greenback under pressure with the Japanese currency last buying at 109.41 per dollar. The euro was near the floor of its recent trading range at $1.1358. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was barely changed at 96.393.

In commodities, global growth worries pulled oil prices lower with Brent down 55 cents at $62.19 and U.S. crude futures off 39 cents at $53.41.