Most Asian markets down slightly after Brussels attacks, STI up 0.2%

A pedestrian walking in front of an electric stock board in Tokyo on March 14.
A pedestrian walking in front of an electric stock board in Tokyo on March 14. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Asian stocks retreated on Wednesday (March 23), after the regional benchmark index closed on Tuesday at the highest level since January, as deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels weighed on sentiment.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index fell 0.4 per cent to 129.37 as of 9:49 am in Tokyo. Two bombs went off in rapid succession at the Brussels airport and an explosion an hour later hit a subway station a short walk from the EU's headquarters. Terrorist incidents including the one in Paris last November as well as the London bombings in 2005 spurred equity selloffs that were erased in the following days and weeks.

"This is a reflection of broader geopolitical risks out there," said Chris Green, an Auckland-based strategist at First NZ Capital Group Ltd.

"Usually such attacks will have only a short-term impact. Investors' focus remains on macro economic fundamentals and we do need to see more signs of sustainability in the US economy and some stability in the Chinese data. I'm somewhat cautious given the recent rally we've seen."

Japan's Topix index slipped 0.1 per cent, swinging from a gain of 0.6 per cent. South Korea's Kospi index dropped 0.1 per cent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 0.2 per cent at 2,886.47 as of 9:30 am.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index declined 0.6 per cent. New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 Index added 0.1 per cent. Markets in China and Hong Kong have yet to start trading.

The FTSE China A50 Index futures gained 0.4 per cent in most recent trading, while those for the Hang Seng Index added 0.2 per cent. The Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.6 per cent on Tuesday, after posting its longest rally since last May and closing at its highest level since Jan 12 on Monday.

The Shanghai gauge has rebounded 13 per cent from a January low amid signs of state-fund buying during this month's National People's Congress and as policy makers loosened controls on margin lending. Recent media reports citing People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan as encouraging individuals to invest personal savings in the stock market were "misinterpretations," the central bank said in a Weibo post.

E-mini futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 0.1 per cent on Wednesday. The US equity benchmark index slipped 0.1 per cent on Tuesday. Most US stocks retreated as investors dived into haven assets including gold and the dollar after the terrorist attacks in Brussels. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index pared a drop of as much as 1.6 per cent Tuesday to close down 0.2 per cent.

Europe's leaders pledged a united front against Islamic State after the bomb attacks that killed at least 31 people in Brussels, but the jihadist group's latest and powerfully symbolic strike may only widen the continent's divisions.