Asian stocks dip amid smouldering banking sector fears as US Fed chief testimony awaited

Janet Yellen collects her papers during a news conference to announce raised interest rates.
Janet Yellen collects her papers during a news conference to announce raised interest rates. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian stocks dipped early on Wednesday (Feb 10) amid smouldering banking sector concerns, particularly banks in Europe, while the safe-haven yen stood atop large gains made overnight.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan edged down 0.2 per cent. The decline was limited after Wall Street shares cut most of their losses overnight and gave battered risk assets some relief.

Australian stocks fell 1 per cent. Japan's Nikkei lost 0.2 per cent after sinking 5.4 per cent on Tuesday.

Equity markets remained wobbly after being hit hard early in the week by worries about the health of the euro zone banking sector, with a very easy monetary policy seen crimping bank profits and consequently their ability to repay debt.

Trouble for equities has meant a boon for government bonds, with the Japanese government bond 10-year yield dropping into the negative for the first time on Tuesday and the US Treasury benchmark yield declining to a one-year trough.

The yen, often sought in times of financial market turmoil, has also received a strong boost this week. The US dollar traded at 114.96 yen after sinking to a 15-month low of 114.205 overnight. The euro was flat at US$1.1288 after scaling a four-month high of US$1.1338 overnight on the dollar's broader weakness.

After a tumultuous start to the week, markets are looking to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who will address the US Congress later in the session, for fresh cues and possible relief.

While Ms Yellen is expected to defend the Fed's first rate hike in a decade and likely insist that further rises remain on track, any signs of a departure from such a stance could provide risk assets with a breather.

"The narrative that she faces is that the US economy and asset markets are being sucked into the downdraft caused by oil, China, emerging markets, reserve manager and sovereign wealth fund asset selling, commodities, currency war, the strong dollar, weak European banks, weak Japanese banks, weak US banks and policy ineffectiveness...to name a few," wrote Steven Englander, global head of FX strategy at Citi.

In commodities, crude oil prices trimmed some of their sharp losses suffered overnight. US crude was up 1.6 per cent at US$28.39 a barrel. Crude sank nearly 6 per cent on Tuesday after weak demand forecasts from the US government and a rout in equities pressured prices.

Spot gold fetched US$1,189.36 an ounce, staying near a 7-1/2-month peak of US$1,200.60 stuck on Monday on the back of the risk aversion in the wider markets.