Date
22 October 2018
Share markets in Shanghai and elsewhere in Asia tumbled after Wall Street’s worst losses in eight months led to broader risk aversion. Photo: Reuters
Share markets in Shanghai and elsewhere in Asia tumbled after Wall Street’s worst losses in eight months led to broader risk aversion. Photo: Reuters

Asia shares swoon to 19-month lows after Wall Street rout

Share markets in Asia plunged to a 19-month low on Thursday after Wall Street’s worst losses in eight months led to broader risk aversion, a rise in market volatility gauges and concerns over overvalued stock markets in an environment of rapidly rising dollar yields, Reuters reports.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was off 3.8 percent around 0500 GMT, and earlier touched its lowest level since March 2017.

In Hong Kong, the benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 3.54 percent to 25,266.37, while the Shanghai Composite Index plunged 5.22 percent.

The sell-off, which came as the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said stock market valuations have been “extremely high”, erased hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth around the region.

“Equity markets are locked in a sharp sell-off, with concern around how far yields will rise, warnings from the IMF about financial stability risks and continued trade tension all driving uncertainty,” ANZ analysts said.

Japan’s Nikkei ended down 3.9 percent its steepest daily drop since March, while the broader TOPIX lost around US$207 billion in market value, falling 3.5 percent.

Shares in Taiwan were among the region’s worst-hit, with the broader index losing 6.3 percent. Seoul’s Kospi index was down 3.8 percent.

“We can’t see where the bottom point will be,” said Chien Bor-yi, an analyst at Taipei-based Cathay Futures Consultant.

“Further short-term equity pain may well be unavoidable in South Korea as foreigners are selling, but bond market is holding up,” said Peter Park, head of securities management at South Korea’s IBK Insurance.

On Wall Street, the S&P500’s sharpest one-day fall since February wiped out around US$850 billion of wealth as technology shares tumbled on fears of slowing demand.

The S&P 500 ended Wednesday with a loss of 3.29 percent and the Nasdaq Composite 4.08 percent, while the Dow shed 2.2 percent.

The bloodletting was bad enough to attract the attention of US President Donald Trump, who pointed an accusing finger at the Fed for raising interest rates.

“I really disagree with what the Fed is doing,” Trump told reporters before a political rally in Pennsylvania. “I think the Fed has gone crazy.”

It was hawkish commentary from Fed policymakers that triggered the sudden sell-off in Treasuries last week and sent long-term yields to their highest in seven years.

The surge made stocks look less attractive compared to bonds while also threatening to curb economic activity and profits.

“The rise in Treasury yields has been the primary catalyst for the sell-off in equities, since higher yields suggest a lower present value of future dividend streams, assuming an unchanged economic outlook,” said Steven Friedman, senior economist at BNP Paribas Asset Management.

“It is also possible that equity investors are growing concerned that the Federal Reserve’s projected rate path will choke off the expansion.”

Yuan a flashpoint

The shift in yields is also sucking funds out of emerging markets, putting particular pressure on the Chinese yuan as Beijing fights a protracted trade battle with the United States.

On Thursday, the president of the World Bank said he is very concerned about trade tensions and warned of a “clear” global economic slowdown if tariff threats escalate.

China has suspended approvals for an overseas investment product in Shanghai and has asked license holders such as JPMorgan Asset Management and Aberdeen Standard Investments to be “low profile” in marketing it, as concerns rise in Beijing over possible outflow pressures.

China’s central bank has been allowing the yuan to gradually decline, breaking the psychological 6.9000 barrier and leading speculators to push the dollar up to 6.9377 at 0602 GMT.

The onshore yuan was trading at 6.9305 per dollar at 0606 GMT, 65 pips weaker than the onshore close of 6.9240 Wednesday.

China’s move has forced other emerging market currencies to weaken to stay competitive, and drawn the ire of the United States which sees it as an unfair devaluation.

“The yuan has already weakened significantly, to offset the tariffs announced so far,” said Alan Ruskin, Deutsche’s global head of G10 FX strategy. “Further weakness could exacerbate concerns of a self-fulfilling flight of capital, and a loss of control.”

There was also a danger for the US if Beijing had to intervene heavily to support the yuan as it could lead to China selling US Treasuries, he added.

The dollar was already losing ground to both the yen and the euro, as investors favored currencies of countries that boasted large current account surpluses.

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CG

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