Asian shares slip after G20, Fed angst; STI up 0.5%

A pedestrian looks at various stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb 26, 2016.
A pedestrian looks at various stock prices outside a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb 26, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks retreated on Monday (Feb 29) after a weekend meeting of G20 policymakers ended with no new coordinated action to spur global growth and as solid US data revived expectation of the Federal Reserve further raising rates before year-end.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dipped 0.4 per cent and appeared likely to post its second consecutive month of losses, with a 1.0 per cent drop so far this month.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 0.53 per cent at 2,663.37 as of 12.29 pm.

Japan's Nikkei gained 0.4 per cent largely on the overnight fall in the yen, though it looks set to log its third monthly fall in a row with decline of 7.2 per cent so far.

Mainland Chinese shares fell sharply with the bluechip CSI 300 Index briefly hitting a 15-month low.

Disappointing earnings results released over the weekend, the lack of concrete measures from the group of 20 economies and political implications from the latest cyberspace crackdown by Beijing were all cited as a culprit.

G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed to use "all policy tools - monetary, fiscal and structural - individually and collectively" to reach the group's economic goals, citing a series of risks to world growth.

"The G20 communique basically says 1) the world is not as bad a place as markets think; and 2) if it gets worse we will use fiscal, monetary and structural policy aggressively to fix it," Steven Englander, global head of G10 FX Strategy at CitiFX, said in a note to clients.

"In baseball parlance, they were aiming for a single in terms of restoring confidence and they probably achieved it," he added.

While some market players say the statement could mildly underpin market sentiment, the lack of any concrete action - especially on fiscal stimulus as some had speculated - was seen as a disappointment.

A pledge in the statement to "consult closely" on foreign exchange markets was also seen by some market players as hindering a few countries from adopting flexible policy actions.

On the other hand, fresh US economic data published on Friday revived expectations of Federal Reserve rate increases, helping to lift US bond yields and the dollar.

Consumer spending rose solidly in January and underlying inflation picked up by the most in four years. Gross domestic product growth in the fourth quarter was revised higher, to a 1.0 per cent annual rate.

"The US economy doesn't look too bad after all. So some people seem to start thinking that the Fed's rate hike could be back on the agenda," said Bart Wakabayashi, head of forex at State Street.

The figures prompted Federal funds rate futures to price in a more than 50 per cent chance of one rate hike by the end of year, compared to almost zero per cent chance in mid-February.

The two-year US Treasuries yield also hit a four-week high of 0.817 per cent on Friday and last stood at 0.797 per cent versus its Feb 11 low of 0.582 per cent.

The greenback's yield allure helped lift the US dollar's index against a basket of six major currencies to a three-week high of 98.26 on Friday. It last stood at 98.13.

As the dollar gained, the euro fetched US$1.0920, having slipped to a three-week low of US$1.0912 on Friday. In early Asia on Monday, it traded at US$1.0931, flat on the day.

The yen also slipped to one-week low of 114 to the dollar on Friday but bounced back 0.5 per cent on Monday to 113.41.

Still, with gains of 6.8 per cent in February, the yen remains the best performing major currency this month as concerns over slowing global growth fanned buying in safe-haven assets.

In contrast, fears of "Brexit" offered traders a good excuse to sell the British pound, which fell to a seven-year low of US$1.3841.

Although the British government managed to get G20 to agree to include a warning against "Brexit" in the statement, that appeared to have limited impact. The British currency is down 2.7 per cent on month.

Equally under pressure was the South Korean won, which fell to 5-1/2-year lows, shedding 3.4 per cent this month, on worries about growth prospects in China and tensions with North Korea, despite suspected intervention by Seoul to stem the currency's fall.

Elsewhere, the oil markets maintain their firmness as short-sellers have reduced their positions following major oil producing countries' decision to freeze output earlier this month.

While the measure is unlikely to solve the persistent supply glut in the market, it was seen as a first step for further cooperation in the future.

International Brent futures climbed 1.1 per cent from their last close to US$35.49 per barrel, 2.2 per cent above its levels at the end of January.