Asia stocks waver as policy uncertainty, weaker oil sap confidence

Asian stocks wavered on Thursday as investors grappled with the apparently diminishing ability of major central banks to stimulate growth, while a tumble in crude oil prices added to the risk-averse mood.

Spreadbetters saw sentiment remaining somber in the European session, forecasting a lower open for Britain’s FTSE .FTSE, Germany’s DAX .GDAXI and France’s CAC .FCHI.

While expectations over a Federal Reserve rate hike at next week’s meeting have faded, investors are bracing for a tightening before year-end.

Perceived limits to the extensive monetary easings led by major central banks such as the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have also soured broader risk sentiment, driving global debt yields to multi-month highs earlier this week.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS edged down 0.1 percent.

Singapore .STI lost 0.4 percent but Hong Kong’s Hang Seng .HSI rose 0.6 percent in thin trade. Mainland China markets were closed for holidays.

Japan’s Nikkei .N225 slid more than 1 percent to a three-week low.

“Worries that the BOJ is struggling to come up with effective policy are making investors risk averse,” said Yoshinori Shigemi, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management in Tokyo.

The Fed and the BOJ both hold two-day policy meetings that end next Wednesday, with the BOJ due to comprehensively review its policies.

The BOJ has resorted to a range of unconventional policy steps such as negative interest rates, which some now see as becoming the centerpiece of future monetary easing.

Sources say board members may debate next week whether to cut rates more deeply and make changes to its massive asset-buying program.

The soggy Asian session followed an uninspiring performance overnight on Wall Street where the Dow .DJI lost 0.2 percent and the S&P 500 .SPX shed 0.1 percent, with uncertainty over future interest rate hikes and lower energy shares weighing. [.N]

The Bank of England will be a focus on Thursday. The central bank is seen standing pat after easing policy last month, amid signs it overestimated the initial shock to Britain’s economy from June’s Brexit vote.

“Having just increased stimulus in August, the BoE won’t be eager to add bond purchases or cut interest rates again,” wrote Kathy Lien, managing director of FX Strategy at BK Asset Management.

“Recent data shows how their efforts have paid off so while the BoE will leave the door open to additional stimulus, they should note the improvements in the economy and signal to the market that they are in wait-and-see mode.”

Sterling added to modest gains made overnight and was last up 0.1 percent at $1.3256 GBP=D4.

Elsewhere, the dollar slipped 0.1 percent to 102.345 yen JPY= as the risk off mood benefited the safe-haven Japanese currency. The greenback had briefly risen above 103.00 the previous day on speculation the BOJ would increase stimulus next week.

The euro was steady at $1.1245 EUR=.

Brent crude LCOc1 limped up 0.6 percent to $46.11 a barrel after dropping 2.6 percent on Wednesday when data showing large weekly builds in U.S. petroleum products offset a surprise draw in crude stockpiles.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield US10YT=RR stood at 1.706 percent after sliding overnight to as low as 1.682 percent.

The rise in the 10-year yield slowed as bond market weakness, which had sent it to a three-month high of 1.752 percent earlier this week, ebbed slightly.

Long-dated bonds have underperformed for much of the past month along with a steepening yield curve in Japanese government bonds. The BOJ is studying options to steepen the yield curve to help prompt new lending by banks that have been hurt by low long-term rates.

Japan’s 10-year government bond JP10YTN=JBTC fell a basis point to minus 0.030 percent after rising close to positive territory earlier in the week.

By Shinichi Saoshiro | TOKYO

(Additional reporting by Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Eric Meijer and Kim Coghill)

Source: Reuters

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