Asia stocks slip on renewed anxiety over trade, growth outlook

February 8, 2019

By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO (Reuters) – Asian stocks slipped on Friday as investors fretted about a broadening global economic slowdown, with sentiment not helped by the absence of any positive signs for a resolution in the U.S.-China trade row.

Safe-haven government bonds benefited in the face of growing anxiety over the global outlook, with German long-term debt yields falling to their lowest in over two years.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.3 percent, easing back from a four-month peak touched the previous day. The index stood little changed on the week.

Japan’s Nikkei fell 1.2 percent.

The European Commission on Thursday sharply cut its forecasts for euro zone economic growth this year and next, stoking fears of a global slowdown spreading to Europe as businesses and investors grappled with trade frictions.

Adding to the gloomy mood, President Donald Trump said he did not plan to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a March 1 deadline to achieve a trade deal.

That rattled investors hoping for a resolution to the months-long trade dispute between the world’s biggest economies. Wall Street shares slumped in response overnight, with the Dow falling 0.9 percent to pull back from a two-month peak scaled midweek on upbeat corporate results.

“With many of the corporate earnings out of the way, equities appeared ready for a correction after their recent highs,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

“Equities will face further hurdles next week, as (U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven) Mnuchin and (Trade Representative Robert) Lighthizer will be visiting China. Brexit talks are also in focus.”

Mnuchin and Lighthizer are expected to engage in another round of trade talks in Beijing next week to push for a deal to protect American intellectual property and avert a March 2 increase in U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield stood near a six-day low of 2.65 percent plumbed overnight, when it sank more than 4 basis points amid the broader risk aversion in markets.

The 10-year German bund yield fell to 0.105 percent on Thursday, its lowest since November 2016 after the European Commission’s sharp cuts to growth and inflation forecasts.

The euro sagged under the weight of declining German bund yields. The single currency was down 0.2 percent at $1.1339 after dropping to a two-week low of $1.1325 the previous day. It was on track for a 1 percent weekly loss.

The dollar was little changed at 109.820 yen, nudged off a high of 110.09 reached the previous day. The yen tends to attract demand in times of political tensions and market volatility due to its perceived safe-haven status.

Yet, the U.S. currency was still headed for a small gain of 0.3 percent against the yen this week.

In commodities, U.S. crude futures slipped 0.3 percent to $52.48 per barrel, extending losses after dropping 2.5 percent in the previous session.

Oil fell on Thursday as the market was hurt by concerns that global demand growth would lag in the coming year.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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