Asian stocks tentative on anxiety over volatile oil, STI flat

Pedestrians walking past a stock prices board in Tokyo on Feb 18.
Pedestrians walking past a stock prices board in Tokyo on Feb 18. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares slipped on Thursday (Feb 25) as a fragile recovery in volatile crude oil unravelled, reviving anxiety about the health of the global economy, and Chinese shares skidded.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan gave up early gains and was down 0.2 per cent.

Singapore's Straits Times was flat, edging up 2.19 poinst to 2,622.15 as of 1:09 pm.

Japan's Nikkei stock index added about 0.5 per cent as the yen moved away from its recent highs.

Sharp Corp shares jumped after its board decided to accept a takeover offer from Foxconn, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, a source said, in what would be the largest acquisition by a foreign company in Japan's insular technology sector.

Market players said investors have focused on Friday's G-20 meeting in Shanghai as one potential catalyst for troubled, directionless markets.

"The IMF has suggested that members of the G-20 summit use the meeting as a means of discussing a coordinated policy response for what could otherwise be a crisis," said Stefan Worrall, director of Japan equity sales at Credit Suisse in Tokyo. "I think investors are closely watching the G-20 for any signs of a coordinated fiscal response."

Chinese shares extended early losses, with the CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen down 3.4 per cent, while the Shanghai Composite Index slumped 3.6 per cent.

The US dollar added about 0.1 per cent against its Japanese counterpart to 112.33 yen, well off a two-week low of 111.04 yen plumbed overnight.

The euro rose about 0.1 per cent to US$1.1021 after touching a three-week low of US$1.0957 overnight.

The British pound steadied at US$1.3930 after dropping to a seven-year low of US$1.3878 in the previous session on heightened fears that a June 23 referendum could lead to a British exit from the European Union.

US crude futures shed about 0.9 per cent to US$31.86 a barrel, after they gained nearly 1 percent overnight on government data showing gasoline demand rose more than 5 per cent over the past four weeks compared with a year ago. That helped offset investors' fears about record high crude inventories.

The sharp downturn in global oil prices has fed investor fears about slowing world growth, with broader concerns about China's cooling economy adding to heightened anxiety and financial market volatility.

Brent crude for April delivery skidded 1.1 per cent to $US34.04 a barrel.

Wednesday's recovery in crude oil prices helped drag Wall Street higher at the close, after lacklustre economic data weighed on sentiment for much of the session.

US data showed the services sector contracted in early February for the first time since October 2013, suggesting a weakening of economic conditions beyond the troubled manufacturing and energy industries. Other data showed weakness in new U.S. single-family home sales, though the overall housing market recovery remains intact.

Spot gold erased early losses and rose about 0.4 per cent to US$1,234.50 an ounce, within site of a one-year high of US$1,260.60 reached on Feb 11.