Hong Kong: The euro fell sharply on Wednesday after an ECB official reportedly said the EU would not rescue Greece, while concern about a big drop in US home sales limited gains in Asian stocks.
Rising oil and commodity prices helped drive resource-related Asia shares slightly higher. European share markets, however, were set to open weaker, according to financial spreadbetters, while US equity futures were down 0.3%.
The euro fell to $1.4290 after European Central Bank Executive board member Juergen Stark was quoted in a media report as saying the European Union would not bail out Greece, which is heading towards becoming the eurozone’s most indebted economy.
The euro later edged back up to $1.4300, still down 0.5% on the day.
The dollar was up 0.4% against a basket of major currencies as it also regained ground against the yen by midafternoon, after falling to as low as 91.25 in New York trade on an unexpected decline in November pending US homes sales.
It was quoted at 92.12 yen but remains well below a three-month high of 93.22 yen hit earlier this week.
The yen could come under further pressure if Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii were to resign due to poor health, as widely expected, traders said.
That would deal a fresh blow to the government as it struggles with a weak economy and huge public debt, but Japan’s stock and government bond markets remained calm.
“Fujii’s resignation might be expected to lead to a weaker yen, but since this hasn’t happened, the stock market is unlikely to respond much at this point either,” said Masayoshi Yano, an analyst at Meiwa Securities in Tokyo.
The benchmark Nikkei share index edged up 0.5% to a fresh 15-month closing high with resource-related shares continuing to rise on the back of a surge in commodity and oil prices since the start of the year.
Shares of Japan Airlines, however, tumbled 6.7% on a report a government-backed turnaround fund is seeking bankruptcy proceedings for the struggling carrier.
The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks traded outside Japan, which is trading at 17-month highs, rose 0.6%, extending gains over the past few days.
Investors were cautious after data on Tuesday showed an unexpected drop in pending US homes sales in November, but other data pointed to upbeat factory orders.
Markets were awaiting the December ADP employment data and the minutes from last month’s Federal Reserve meeting, due later on Wednesday, for any clues about the health of the U.S. economy and when the Federal Reserve might start to raise interest rates.
Investors are also awaiting key US non-farm payroll data on Friday. If the economy actually added jobs, as a minority of economists predict, it would provide a powerful jolt to what has been a sluggish recovery.
Oil prices eased slightly to $81.60 a barrel following an unexpected increase in US oil stocks. Frigid temperatures in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia had pushed crude to its highest settlement in nearly 15 months on Tuesday.
Copper futures rose in Shanghai to 61,600 yuan ($9,019) a tonne, their highest level since July 2008, buoyed by recent positive economic data from the United States and China and aided by concerns over harsh weather in China that could disrupt the supply of base metals.
“Some investors who closed their positions before the New Year’s Day holiday are now back buying again,” said Wang Zhouyi, an analyst at Shanghai CIFCO Futures in Shanghai.
Gold which has see-sawed this week in inverse relation to the dollar, rose to $1,123.70 an ounce from $1,118.10 at the New York close.
The precious metal rallied 25% last year as investors bought it as a safe haven and as a hedge against a declining dollar and inflation risk. But it is now well off a record high $1,226.10 on 3 December amid uncertainty about the dollar’s direction and on signs the global economy is improving.
Asian currencies continue to benefit from rising risk appetite and South Korean authorities were spotted intervening for a second day to rein in the surging won which hit a 15-month high on expectations interest rates may soon rise.
Japanese government bonds edged lower, with the 10-year yield hitting a seven-week high at one point before dipping after the sale of 10-year debt. Prices at the auction, the first supply hurdle for the market this year, were in line with expectations.
There was little immediate reaction to reports that Finance Minister Fujii will quit. Traders said the focus is now shifting to whether his successor can maintain the same kind of fiscal restraint in face of political pressure to spend more on economic stimulus projects, which would further inflate the country’s mountain of debt.