Asia shares retreat after China cuts growth target

Pedestrians walk past a stock indicator board displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 7, 2019.
Pedestrians walk past a stock indicator board displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 7, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian shares stepped back on Tuesday (March 5) after China cut its economic growth target and pledged measures to support the economy amid growing challenges from rising debt and a dispute over trade and technology with the United States.

Australian shares dropped 0.6 per cent while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.5 per cent. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dipped 0.2 per cent and Japan's Nikkei dropped 0.3 per cent.

China cut its growth target for this year to 6.0 to 6.5 per cent, in line with expectations, from around 6.5 per cent last year.

Premier Li Keqiang also said the country sees a budget deficit of 2.8 per cent of GDP and the Finance Ministry set the quota for local government's special bond issues at 2.15 trillion yuan, 0.8 trillion yuan above last year's quota.

"The increase in local governments' special bond is fairly large," said Naoto Saito, chief researcher at Daiwa Institute of Research.

"Since those funds will be solely used for infrastructure investments, you cannot avoid the impression that the government is relying on investments to support the economy in the short-term rather than de-leveraging. This could cause problems in the longer term."

Wall Street's major indexes fell on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding 0.79 per cent and the S&P 500 losing 0.39 per cent.

An unexpected fall in US construction spending, data that normally attracts little attention, was cited as a factor.

But others saw the retreat as a long overdue correction after a rally since late last year.

MSCI's World index,, a gauge of 23 developed markets, has risen 16.6 per cent from its near two-year low set on Dec. 26 low, even as the earnings outlook stagnated, driven by hopes of a dovish Fed and a compromise between Beijing and Washington on trade.

The index is now trading at 14.6 times expected earnings, the highest level since early October, when a bear market began globally.

Thus a media report on Monday that US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping could reach a formal trade deal at a summit around March 27 prompted profit-taking rather than follow-through buying.

The 10-year US Treasuries yield dropped to 2.724 per cent after touching from six-week highs of 2.768 per cent in the past two sessions.

In currency markets, the dollar held an upper hand against many of its rivals as other major central banks are seen tilting to a more dovish stance than the Federal Reserve.

The euro fetched US$1.1339, having dropped 0.25 per cent on Monday, amid expectations the European Central Bank is preparing to give banks more cheap, long-term funding at its policy meeting on Thursday.

The dollar traded at 111.75 yen, off a 10-week high of 112.08 on Friday.

Gold has fallen for four days in a row by Monday to as low as US$1,283.10 per ounce, its lowest level since Jan. 25. It last stood at US$1,286.6. Silver hit two-month lows of US$15.0725 per ounce.

Oil prices held firm after OPEC ally Russia said it would ramp up supply cuts.

US crude futures stood at US$56.41 per barrel, down 0.3 per cent in early Asia but still up 1 per cent on the week.