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Asia stocks gain while yen up as caution lingers

  Asian stocks edged up on Tuesday to a one-month high, but gains were kept in check as hopes for big government spending to revive growth were offset by investors shying away from risk in wrapping up a brutal 2008.


US crude oil prices were little changed near $43.80 a barrel after rebounding from a four-year low last week, while safe-haven government bonds dipped slightly. “Reports about additional government support and economic stimulus plans do help sentiment, but the economy is still in a deep slowdown, and we will probably see more grim economic data,” said Kwak Joong-bo, a market analyst at Hana Daetoo Securities in Seoul.

Global stocks bolted higher on Monday as US authorities thrashed out a rescue plan for struggling automakers and US President-elect Barack Obama said he would undertake the biggest infrastructure spending since the 1950s. The White House reviewed a Democratic plan to bail out the automakers with $15 billion of loans. Investors are still debating whether the sharp sell-off this year has run its course or there is worse to come as the global economy slides into a deep recession that has already claimed the three major regions: the United States, Japan and the euro zone.

Data on Tuesday showed Japan’s economy contracted at an even faster pace than originally estimated during the third quarter, showing the recession deepening and raising worries the world’s second largest economy faces its longest period of contraction ever. Economists at Deutsche Bank forecast that global growth next year will be barely above zero.

The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific stocks outside Japan rose 0.3% and touched its highest in about a month, a day after jumping 7%. Hopes that Chinese economic leaders meeting this week in Beijing would unveil more measures to prop up growth helped fuel the rebound.


The financial crisis is still forcing banks to hunt for more capital, with banking shares in Australia taking a hit after Westpac Banking Corp announced a $1.7 billion share sale. “It’s a reminder that there’s still going to be an ongoing call for additional capital, maybe not this side of the new year, but possibly on the other side of the new year,” said Jamie Spiteri, a dealer at Shaw Stockbroking.

Japan’s Nikkei average rose 0.5%, lagging the 3.8% jump in the S&P 500 on Monday. But the yen’s gains showed that investors are still taking advantage of any rebound in higher-yielding currencies to sell, suggesting more market players are looking to close out positions and raise cash holdings before year-end. The yen tends to move in close synch with stocks due to its role in the carry trade, which tends to attract more funds when stocks are rising and market volatility falls.

The Australian dollar, a bellwether of investor willingness to hold risky positions, dropped more than 1% against the yen to near ¥61.00 after having gained 3% the previous day on the rebound in equities. Over the past year, the daily correlation between the Nikkei and Aussie/yen is a positive 0.94 -- showing the two moves almost in lockstep. The dollar was little changed near ¥92.80, hovering just ¥2 above a 13-year low struck in October. But the dollar index, a gauge of its performance against six major currencies, was up 0.4% at 86.006 after sliding the previous day.

Along with the yen, the dollar has also traded in close tandem with stocks, gaining whenever there is a flare up of risk aversion and tumble in shares as investors shift out of riskier currencies. The dollar has also soared as US investors have repatriated funds from their hefty holdings of foreign assets, while hedge funds and others have scrambled to acquire the dollar funding they need with money markets still largely frozen.

With financial markets settling down, investors have taken profits on the big rally in safe-haven government bonds. Japanese government bonds also dipped as dealers made room on their books for an auction of five-year paper. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note edged up half a basis point to 1.395%.

US Treasuries were also a tad weaker. The 10-year note slipping 2/32 in price to yield 2.751%, little changed from late US trade but off Friday’s low of 2.510% -- the lowest since the 1950s. (Reuters)