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Asia stocks dip and risk shunned despite US stimulus

  Most Asian stock markets slid on Thursday while the yen strengthened, with solace that US lawmakers had compromised on a $789 billion stimulus bill overshadowed by uncertainty about the global outlook.

Australian shares posted solid gains, with bank stocks rebounding and some builders benefiting from not-so-dire quarterly results. Wall Street added small gains on the view that the quicker Washington could inject money into the economy, which is gasping in a deep recession, the better.

However, oil’s steady decline below $40 a barrel and gold’s march to a 6-1/2-month high overnight both reflected expectations that a recovery from such a massive shock to the global economy was not around the corner.

Stocks in the energy and materials sectors were among the biggest losers while financials were weak for a second day running on disappointment that a US plan to fix the banking industry lacked specifics.

“The bank plan really just seemed as if it was putting things off rather than dealing with them, and now markets are waiting for the economic stimulus plan to be enacted, so it’s hard to bid the market higher,” said Yutaka Miura, chief technical analyst at Shinko Securities in Tokyo.

Equities in Japan were quick to fall, with the Nikkei share average tumbling 2.3% as traders returned from a public holiday. Exporters like Canon and Toyota were hurt by strength in the yen, which underlined a continued retreat to safety in global markets.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slipped 2.06%, with shares of Chinese lenders like Industrial & Commercial Bank of China among the biggest drags. The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks excluding Japan broke a 2-day losing streak, posting modest early gains of 0.5% based on strength in the Australian market.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 gained 2.2% in morning trade, with banks making gains on the stimulus plan compromise reached by US lawmakers. The yen and gold have so far been the biggest beneficiaries of the deflated hopes of investors who had wanted a much clearer plan this week from the US Treasury on how to segregate and price highly illiquid assets on the balance sheets of banks.


Gold in the spot market was steady at $936.45 an ounce after surging to the highest since July 2008, at $953.30 overnight. The precious metal has gained precisely because it has no industrial use in a global economy that has slowed rapidly, as well as remaining a popular hedge against future inflation, as central banks try to flood the financial system with cash.

The yen rose against major currencies as investors avoided risk as Japanese stock prices fell on disappointment over the financial rescue plans in the United States. The US dollar fell 0.3% to ¥90.12, while the euro was down 0.2% to ¥116.38.

“Without details on the US bank bailout plan, currency market players found it difficult to judge how effective it would be. So they are watching how stockmarkets are accessing financial plans,” said Kwang-ja Kim, deputy general manager at Shinsei Bank in Tokyo.

Japanese government bonds played catch up after a holiday and an overnight rise in US Treasuries. The 10-year bond future jumped 0.79 point to 139.21, while in the cash market the 10-year yield slipped 4.5 basis points to 1.26%. The benchmark yield on the 10-year US Treasury note recovered 1 basis point to 2.79% after tumbling 5 basis points on Wednesday. (Reuters)