Asian stocks fall fifth day on Fed minutes, China slowdown fears

A South Korean dealer works in front of monitors at the Exchange Bank in Seoul, South Korea on Aug 19, 2015.
A South Korean dealer works in front of monitors at the Exchange Bank in Seoul, South Korea on Aug 19, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Asian stocks fell for a fifth day after Federal Reserve minutes showed US officials sought more progress on inflation and investors watched China as concerns heighted over the nation's slowdown.

While the Fed's minutes quelled speculation the US central bank will raise rates at its next gathering, China's shock currency devaluation continued to roil emerging-market assets, with concern China's slowdown will limit global growth fueling a rout in commodities. Gold and silver gained on haven demand while oil and copper extended losses.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 0.9 per cent with all markets in the region except New Zealand posting declines. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index hit an 8-month low while Singapore-listed shares fell to 1 1/2-year lows. Malaysian shares sank to three-year lows. Mainland Chinese shares also dropped 1.2 per cent while Japan's Nikkei fell 0.7 per cent.

"Markets are nervous of risks and investors are pulling funds out of emerging economies and resource exporters," said Daisuke Uno, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank.

Fears that Chinese growth, which carried the global economy following the 2008 international financial crisis, is slowing in the long term are affecting the outlook for many industries, with the commodities sector among the hardest-hit.

US crude oil prices eased 0.8 per cent after a fall of more than 4 per cent on Wednesday following an unexpectedly large increase in US stockpiles, barely holding above its 6 1/2-year low of US$40.40 per barrel. It last stood at US$40.47, with a break below US$40 seen as likely to trigger a fresh wave of selling. Brent crude futures fell 0.6 per cent to US$46.90, edging near the six-year low of US$45.19 touched in January.

"While the Fed is looking less likely to move in September, everybody is really worried that China is slowing down faster than what official figures are telling you," Evan Lucas, a strategist at IG Ltd. in Melbourne, said by phone. "That's putting pressure on industrial metals and emerging markets."

The Fed meeting occurred before China's devaluation on Aug. 11, a move that had already prompted some investors to scale back bets on a September increase. Those odds were reduced after the Fed minutes, with traders pricing in a 36 per cent probability of an increase next month, down from more than 50 per cent earlier in August.

Chinese stocks fell this week after the securities regulator said late Friday the state agency tasked with supporting share prices will reduce buying as volatility falls. China's richest traders are cashing out of stocks, while a record drop in yuan positions at the central bank and financial institutions last month signaled investors are moving money out of the country.

The rollercoaster Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.2 per cent on Wednesday, erasing losses of as much as 5.1 per cent, with signs of state support appearing as the gauge rallied 6.6 per cent intraday after falling to as low as 3,558.38.