Asia stocks have lost nearly $7.7 trillion this year, leaving traders on edge of their seats

A pedestrian walks past a stock indicator board of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on Dec 5, 2018.
A pedestrian walks past a stock indicator board of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on Dec 5, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - With about four days of Asia equity trading left for the year and low volumes across the board, traders don't seem to be taking any chances.

About USUS$5.6 trillion (S$7.69 trillion) of equity value has been obliterated in the region this year as the global carnage shows no let-up. And investors are bracing for volatile days ahead.

Today is a classic example of that:

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index, which climbed as much as 0.6 per cent earlier on Wednesday (Dec 26), swung between gains and losses and sat 0.2 per cent higher as of 2:10pm in Hong Kong.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Stock Average also had a choppy day but ultimately closed up 0.9 per cent after entering a bear market on Christmas Day.

And US stock-index futures swung between gains and losses, with the S&P 500 Index on the brink of entering a bear market.

Hong Kong and Australia remain closed for a holiday.

There's a chance that 10-year US bull market comes to an end when markets reopen on Wednesday even after US President Donald Trump gave his first expression of public support for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell since people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News last week that the president had discussed dismissing the Fed chief, who was recommended by Mnuchin.

"The direly weak sentiment continues to be the engine behind the declines for markets that have yet to find the panacea in the form of any positive impetus," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist for IG Asia Pte. "The weight that is given to President Trump's assurances is simply much lighter than the threats he is throwing."

And news from elsewhere did little to excite investors:

On Tuesday, China released new rules promising to treat all firms equally from a regulatory standpoint, whether they are foreign, private Chinese companies or state-owned enterprises.

Chinese authorities also said they are studying plans to help banks replenish capital, as President Xi Jinping vows to step up support for the nation's struggling private sector.

North and South Korean staged a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony to upgrade severed rail links, although UN Security Council approval would be needed to advance the project. Long-stalled plans to restore rail links severed by the Korean War were revived in historic summits by North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier this year.

Islamic State claimed a suicide attack on the Libyan Foreign Ministry's headquarters in Tripoli that officials said killed three people, in the latest blow to efforts to stabilize the war-ravaged North African nation.

What's next? "As far as the futures are suggesting, the market is indecisive right now," Pan said. "One should not be surprised if most are still waiting out the storm this week."

With less than a week left in 2018, here's a look at how major stock markets have done this year across the region, as of Dec 25:

Japan's Topix index up 1.1 per cent; Nikkei 225 up 0.9 per cent

Shanghai Composite little changed

Taiwan's Taiex index down 0.5 per cent

South Korea's Kospi index down 1.2 per cent; Kospi 200 down 1.1 per cent

India's S&P BSE Sensex Index down 1 per cent; NSE Nifty 50 down 0.9 per cent

Singapore's Straits Times Index down 1.3 per cent; Malaysia's KLCI down 1.2 per cent; Philippine Stock Exchange down 0.9 per cent; Jakarta Composite down 0.5 per cent; Thailand's SET down 0.4 per cent; Vietnam's VN Index down 0.6 per cent