Asia stocks at 6-month lows, yuan slumps as investors flee to safety

Reuters SYDNEY | Updated on August 05, 2019 Published on August 05, 2019

File photo   -  REUTERS

Asian shares suffered their steepest daily drop in 10 months on Monday, as Sino-US trade friction sent the yuan slumping to a more than decade trough and stampeded investors into safe harbours including the yen, bonds and gold.

The panic is likely to spread to Europe and Wall Street with futures signalling sharp losses in their benchmark indices.

The pan-region Euro Stoxx 50 futures lost 1.1 per cent in Asian trades, while those of London's FTSE slipped over 1 per cent and futures for Germany's DAX were down 1.25 per cent. E-minis for the S&P 500 stumbled 1 per cent.

Markets have been badly spooked since US President Donald Trump abruptly declared he would slap 10 per cent tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese imports, ending a month-long trade truce. China vowed on Friday to fight back.

In response, China's yuan burst beyond the psychological 7-per-dollar threshold in a move that threatened to unleash a whole new front in the trade hostilities - a currency war.

“Everything is selling off right now,” said Ray Attrill, head of forex strategy at National Australia Bank in Sydney. “We have no reason to expect any cessation in selling unless we see any strong action to defend any CNY or CNH weakness.”

“Our working assumption is that we are unlikely to see any meaningful resolution to the trade dispute anytime soon.”

Asian share markets were a sea of red with Japan's Nikkei shedding 1.7 per cent to the lowest since early June. It was the sharpest daily drop since March and led Japanese officials to call a special meeting to discuss market turmoil.

Australian shares slipped about 2 per cent to spend their fourth straight session in the red, and South Korea's KOSPI tumbled 2.6 per cent to hit its lowest since November 2016.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan sank 2.5 per cent to depths not seen since late January. That marked the biggest one-day percentage loss since early October.

In China, the blue-chip index fell 1 per cent, while the troubled Hong Kong market hit a seven-month trough.

Oil prices were dragged down on demand worries, while gold climbed 0.8 per cent to $1,452.17 an ounce.

The trade dispute between the world's two largest economies has already disrupted global supply chains and investment.

The abrupt escalation capped a critical week for global markets after the US Federal Reserve delivered a widely anticipated interest rate cut and played down expectations of further easing.



So far, investors are not buying Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's claim that the 25-basis-point rate reduction was a mere ”mid-cycle adjustment to policy”.

Futures are now pricing in deeper cuts than before last week's Fed meeting. The terminal US rate is seen at 1.22 per cent, 93 basis points below the current effective rate.

Analysts at TD Securities are forecasting no less than five more cuts from the Fed, amounting to 125 basis points of easing, over the coming year or so.

Bond markets were well ahead of the game as US 10-year yields dived 7 basis points to 1.77 per cent, a violent shift for usually cautious Asian hours. Yields in Australia and New Zealand touched all-time lows.

German 10-year government bond yields dropped on Friday to an all-time low of -0.502 per cent and the country's entire government bond yield curve turned negative for the first time ever.

The flight to safety lifted the yen, which often gains at times of stress thanks to Japan's position as the world's largest creditor. The dollar slipped to a seven-month trough of 105.77 yen, while the euro sank to its lowest since April 2017 at 117.66 yen.

That dragged the dollar index off 0.1 per cent, though it was up against most other Asian currencies and those exposed to China or commodities, including the Australian dollar.

The Aussie, a liquid proxy for emerging market and China risk, slipped to a fresh seven-month trough at $0.6748 after losing 1.6 per cent last week.

The Swiss franc was boosted by safe-haven demand from the escalating trade tensions. Trump is also eyeing tariffs on the European Union, but is yet to make any formal announcements. The euro was relatively steady on the dollar at $1.1125.

Sterling hovered near 2017 lows at $1.2119, pressured by concerns about Britain exiting the European Union without a deal in place.

Oil extended losses with US crude off 61 cents at $55.05 and Brent down 81 cents at $61.08.

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Published on August 05, 2019
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