Asian share markets tumble after North Korea fires missile over Japan

Pedestrians walk in front of a quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.
Pedestrians walk in front of a quotation board flashing the Nikkei key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian share markets and US stock futures tumbled on Tuesday (Aug 29), while the yen jumped to four-month highs against the US dollar after North Korea fired a missile over northern Japan, fuelling worries of fresh tension between Washington and Pyongyang.

S&P mini futures fell as much as 0.85 per cent on the news before paring losses to trade 0.55 per cent down. On Monday, the index was little changed as investors tried to assess the fallout from Tropical Storm Harvey.

European shares are expected to fall, with spread-betters looking at a lower opening of 0.5 to 0.6 per cent for Britain's FTSE, France's CAC and Germany's DAX.

Japan's Nikkei was down 0.9 per cent to a four-month low at one point, then pared losses to be 0.5 per cent off.

South Korea's Kospi shed as much as 1.6 per cent, helping to drag down MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan 0.6 per cent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was down 0.5 per cent at 3,251.52 as of 2:15pm.

"All sectors are tumbling, which clearly shows that North Korea risks are the reasons behind it," said Cho Byung-hyun, a stock analyst at Yuanta Securities in Seoul.

North Korea fired a missile early on Tuesday that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific about 1,180 kilometres off the northern region of Hokkaido, in a sharp escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under young leader Kim Jong-Un, but firing projectiles over mainland Japan is his first.

"The missile flew across Japan this time, so the implications will likely be a bit different from previous ones," said Hirokazu Kabeya, chief global strategist at Daiwa Securities.

North Korea threatened earlier this month to fire missiles into the sea near the US Pacific territory of Guam, a host to major US military installations, after President Donald Trump warned Pyongyang would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United States.

The yen rose 0.8 per cent to 108.33 to the dollar, its highest since April, despite Japan's proximity to North Korea, and last stood at 108.79.

The yen tends to benefit during times of geopolitical or financial stress as Japan is the world's biggest creditor nation and there is an assumption that Japanese investors will repatriate funds should a crisis materialize.

The safe-haven Swiss franc hit a one-month high of 0.9498 franc to the dollar and last traded at 0.9523 franc on the dollar, up 0.3 per cent. The Swiss currency gained 0.4 per cent versus the euro to 1.1396 per euro.

The euro hit a its 2 1/2-year high of US$1.1986 and last stood at US$1.1970, maintaining its uptrend after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi did not express concern about the currency's recent rise in his speech at Jackson Hole.

Gold also jumped 0.9 per cent to US$1,324 per ounce, hitting its highest level since Nov 9.

Investors also rushed to the safety of US Treasuries, pushing down the 10-year yield to a two-month low of 2.122 percent.

On the other hand, the South Korean won retreated 0.8 per cent against the dollar to 1,127 won.

"Financial markets think the only realistic option for the US and North Korea will be to sit down and talk at some point because other options are too costly for everyone involved," said Masayoshi Kichikawa, chief strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management. "But no one cannot rule out the risk of accidents. Markets think the chicken game will continue for now and North Korea will remain a risk," he added.

However, North Korea is not the only problem Trump is facing.

Investors are looking at what will happen to his push for tax reforms. He is expected to begin a major effort this week to convince the public of the need for them.

He would also need to work with the Congress to raise the debt ceiling and pass a budget by the end of next month, and investors expect acrimonious negotiations.

On Monday, US shares were narrowly mixed as investors tried to assess the damage from Harvey, the most powerful hurricane to strike Texas in more than 50 years.

Crude oil prices bounced back a tad on the back of supply disruptions in Colombia and Libya, a day after US crude futures dropped on worries that refinery shutdowns caused by to the flooding could boost inventory.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 20 cents, or 0.4 per cent, to US$46.77 a barrel, after having falling to as low as US$46.15 in the previous session.

US gasoline price, which surged as much as 7 per cent to a two-year peak of US$1.7799 per gallon on Monday, traded at US$1.7381 in early Tuesday trade.