Asia Shares Roiled by Risk Aversion; Gold Gains

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January 3, 2014 2:44 PM EST

Asian share markets were under water on Friday after a sudden reversal in some very popular, and thus crowded, trades sparked a bout of global risk aversion.

Asian markets trade lower on 12 December (Reuters).

The net result was a pullback in the euro, sterling, and stocks and a bounce for the yen, gold and bonds. Oil prices had also taken a spill, though for purely idiosyncratic reasons.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed a sharp 1.3 percent, with markets from Shanghai to Sydney all in the red.

The various moves seemed divorced from the news flow, which was mostly upbeat with global manufacturing ending 2013 on a strong note as the United States, Japan and Germany all saw demand pick up.

The fly in the ointment was China where a measure of activity in the services sector eased back in December, just as one for manufacturing had on Thursday.

The next hurdle later Friday will be a spate of speeches from top Federal Reserve policy makers, including outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke. Any comments on the outlook for tapering could affect market sentiment.

On Thursday, the Dow had ended down 0.82 percent while the S&P 500 lost 0.89 percent. MSCI's 45-country share index slipped 1 percent.

Anxious eyes were fixed on Thailand after the stock market sank over 5 percent on Thursday amid deepening political uncertainty. The Thai currency also took a bath, hitting its lowest since early 2010 at 33.03 per dollar.

Shares in South Korea lost another 1.2 percent, though there the problem was one of a strong won and a weak yen undermining the competitiveness of the country's huge export companies.

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd was down over 1 percent, on top of a 5 percent decline on Thursday, and at its lowest since August.

The country's Finance Minister, Hyun Oh-seok, reiterated that they were closely watching the won and the ongoing depreciation of the yen, but went no further than that.


In currencies, the euro took a spill as speculators booked profits on long positions after a strong 2013. The single currency was stuck at $1.3657 after shedding a full cent overnight.

The same forces gripped sterling, another strong performer in recent months. The pound peeled away to $1.6441 from a 28-month peak of $1.6605.

That in turn lifted the U.S. dollar index, a gauge of the greenback's value against six major currencies, by the most in five months. On Friday, the index was at 80.595 compared to a trough of 80.083 the day before.

Going the other way, the yen enjoyed a short-covering bounce. Borrowing in yen to buy higher yielding assets has been a vastly popular trade, leaving the market vulnerable to sudden, if usually brief, reversals.

In this case the dollar came off to 104.65 yen after being as high as 105.44, its strongest level since October 2008. Likewise, the euro retreated to 143.00 yen from a peak of 145.12 on Thursday.

The short-covering theme extended to U.S. Treasury debt, which has been under pressure for pretty much all of the past two months. Yields on the 10-year note dipped to 2.99 percent from a top of 3.04 percent, which had been the highest sine mid-2011.

Gold was another beaten-down asset to get a reprieve. The metal swung up to $1,229.84 having been as low as $1,183.80 early in the week.

Oil prices steadied after taking a fall on Thursday as Libya prepared to restart a major oilfield and on speculation of a sharp rise in crude stockpiles in the United States.

Brent crude edged up 32 cents to $108.10 a barrel but that followed a drop of $2.98 on Thursday. U.S. crude was up 20 cents at $95.64, having shed almost $5 the day before.

(Photo: / )
Asian markets trade lower on 12 December (Reuters).
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