Asian shares soft as US, Europe economic data casts shadow over global economy

A pedestrian walking past a stock prices board in Tokyo on April 5.
A pedestrian walking past a stock prices board in Tokyo on April 5. PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Asian share prices won some reprieve on Wednesday (April 6) after a sharp fall in the previous session, but gains were modest as soft economic data from the United States and Europe cast a shadow on the global economic outlook.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.1 per cent in the early trade, a day after it fell 1.6 per cent, its biggest fall in almost two months.

Japan's Nikkei was flat after Tuesday's 2.4 per cent fall.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 lost 1.01 per cent on Tuesday as investors took profits on recent gains ahead of a quarterly reporting season that is expected to reveal sharply lower earnings.

In addition, the US trade deficit widened more than expected in February in the latest indication that economic growth in the world's largest economy weakened further in the first quarter.

The data prompted economists to cut their first-quarter gross domestic product growth estimates by as much as half a percentage point to as low as a 0.4 per cent annualized rate, which would be its slowest growth in two years.

In Europe, the FTSEurofirst 300 share index dropped 1.9 per cent on Tuesday to its lowest level since late February, led by 2.6 per cent slide in Germany's DAX index after data showed industrial orders in Germany, Europe's largest economy, unexpectedly fell 1.2 per cent in February.

Adding to the gloom, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said on Tuesday that the global economy is recovering but growth is fragile and weak, and risks are increasing.

"Her comments raised expectations that the IMF's global economic forecast due next week will be revised down," said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

Investors also bought back the yen, a low-yield currency that investors often sell to seek higher yields elsewhere when risk appetite is strong.

The yen hit a 17-month high of 109.92 to the US dollar on Tuesday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said countries should avoid seeking to weaken their currencies with "arbitrary intervention."

His comments dimmed any prospects of currency intervention by the Japanese authorities to stem the yen's rise in the near future, analysts said.

The yen last traded at 110.44.

The euro was little changed at US$1.1379, hovering not far from its 5 1/2-month high of US$1.1438.

The safe-haven Swiss franc hit a 5-1/2-month high of 0.9547 franc per dollar on Tuesday and last traded at 0.9566 franc to the dollar.

Investors were also attracted to the safety of bonds, pushing down yields of top-rated government debt.

German 10-year yield fell below 0.10 per cent for the first time since April last year, edging near its record low of around 0.05 per cent touched almost a year ago.

The 10-year US Treasuries yield dropped to a five-week low of 1.715 per cent, having fallen almost 0.3 percentage point from its March 16 peak of 2.002 per cent.

The two-year yield fell to a near six-week low of 0.716 per cent while traders reduced bets on a Fed rate hike in June further.

Interest rates futures are pricing in about 20 per cent chances of a June rate hike, compared to more than 50 per cent in mid-March.

Oil prices extended their rebound after Kuwait insisted major producers will agree to freeze output later this month even as key player Iran continued to balk at the plan.

The market was also helped by data on US crude supply-demand for last week from industry group American Petroleum Institute (API) showing a surprise draw of 4.3 million barrels.

Brent crude futures rose 1.6 per cent to US$38.48 per barrel, off one-month low of US$37.27 hit on Tuesday.

US crude futures jumped 2.5 per cent to US$36.75 a barrel.