Asian Shares Steady as Investors Weigh U.S. Recession Risk

TOKYO (Reuters) —
A man walks past an electronic stock indicator of a securities firm in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Asian shares held steady on Wednesday as investors tried to come to terms with a sharp shift in U.S. bond markets and the implications for the world’s top economy.

Financial spread-betters expect London’s FTSE, Frankfurt’s DAX and Paris’s CAC to gain between 0.2 and 0.4 percent when they open.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan ticked up 0.1 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei average lost 0.2 percent.

Chinese stocks outperformed their Asian peers on expectations that Beijing would roll out more measures to support growth after data showed industrial profits shrank the most since late 2011.

The mainland’s benchmark Shanghai Composite rose 0.5 percent, the blue-chip CSI 300 climbed 0.8 percent, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.6 percent.

Wall Street’s main indexes tallied solid gains on Tuesday but finished below their session highs in a reflection of the underlying concerns about the economic outlook.

The S&P 500 gained 0.72 percent while the Nasdaq Composite added 0.71 percent.

The 10-year U.S. Treasuries yield rose as high as 2.432 percent from Monday’s 15-month low of 2.377 percent, though the yield curve remained inverted, with three-month bills yielding 2.461 percent, more than 10-year bonds.

The inversion spooked many investors as this phenomenon has preceded every U.S. recession over the past 50 years, triggering a dramatic selloff in stock markets globally late last week and a stampede into longer-dated U.S. government debt.

“While the markets now got out of the extreme nervousness about the U.S. yield curve, there is no denying that U.S. data has been soft of late, hardly dispelling worries about the outlook,” said Hirokazu Kabeya, chief global strategist at Daiwa Securities.

The silver lining for stock bulls is that in the past, it has usually taken many months before the United States slipped into recession after the curve was first inverted.

Yet the signs from a raft of economic data, including a set of indicators on Tuesday, were not encouraging.

Home building fell more than expected in February as construction of single-family homes dropped to near a two-year low, while the consumer confidence index by the Conference Board fell unexpectedly.

“We are entering a new phase in markets as the U.S. monetary policy cycle has come to a turning point, from rate hikes to rate cuts,” said Akira Takei, bond fund manager at Asset Management One.

“Not all market participants have changed their mindset yet. But as time goes by, it will become clear that a rate cut is the real possibility. The curve will be inverted further until the Fed cut rates,” he said.

Many major economies in the world, including China, Europe and Japan, are already slowing down amid U.S.-China trade frictions and uncertainty over Brexit.

A senior International Monetary Fund official said on Tuesday the trade tensions between Beijing and Washington have caused huge amounts of economic uncertainty and could cut Asia’s economic growth by 0.9 percentage point.

Investors are also wondering about Britain’s plan to exit from the European Union, with potential scenarios spanning from a cancellation of Brexit to a no-deal exit.

Prime Minister Theresa May will address Conservative Party lawmakers, possibly to set out a timetable for her departure, to win support for her twice-rejected Brexit deal as the Parliament prepares to vote on a variety of possible options.

Ahead of the so-called “indicative votes,” the pound edged 0.2 percent lower to $1.3182 .

The euro slipped to a two-week low of $1.1251 as the dollar gained some footing on a rebound in U.S. bond yields. The common currency last fetched $1.1258.

The dollar edged back to 110.61 yen, from Monday’s 1-1/2-month low of 109.70.

The New Zealand dollar took a tumble after the country’s central bank blindsided markets by saying the next move in interest rates would likely be down, abandoning its long-standing neutral stance.

While the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) kept the official cash rate (OCR) at 1.75 percent as expected, it surprised many by flatly stating “the more likely direction of our next OCR move is down.”

The kiwi dollar dived 1.6 percent to a two-week low at $0.6796, while bond and bill futures rallied sharply, taking yields to fresh all-time lows.

The Australian dollar was dragged down in its wake, falling 0.4 percent to $0.7102, though the Aussie did make hefty gains on its kiwi counterpart.

Oil prices remained supported by supply curbs by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus allies, and as Venezuela’s main oil export port and four crude upgraders have been unable to resume operations following a massive power blackout.

Brent crude oil futures rose 0.3 percent to $68.17 per barrel while U.S. crude futures edged up 0.1 percent to $60.01.

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