Tokyo: Asian shares struggled and credit markets weakened on Monday, with investors still nervous despite the agreement on formation of a new Greek unity government intent on avoiding imminent debt default.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan, which traded between plus 0.3% and minus 0.6%, was down 0.2%. Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.5% while Hong Kong shares opened slightly higher but then slipped to be off 0.1%.
US stock index futures reversed course and fell into negative territory after opening higher, as market players refocused on a lack of commitment to details that are crucial in making the Greek bailout program work.
Investors were also shifting their attention to another debt-burdened country, Italy, putting it under pressure to swiftly restore its credibility on financial markets.
The spreads on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment grade index, a gauge of investor appetite for risk, widened by 3 basis points as equities languished.
“Credit market spreads are a bit wider, while equities are mixed, because debt issues may matter more for Europe and the credit markets are more bearish over these kinds of uncertainties,” said Frances Cheung, senior strategist for Asia ex-Japan at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
“We’ll watch out for any Italian debt auctions to see where demand is coming from,” she said, questioning the ability of some euro zone countries to sustain themselves without selling their own debts.
Italy is the third largest economy in the euro zone with the biggest government bond market. With Italy’s debt levels stuck at 120% of GDP, the country’s debt problems would pose a much bigger risk to the financial markets than Greece does.
Italy’s borrowing costs have been rising sharply over the past several weeks.
Italian 10-year government bond yields hit record highs of around 6.4% on Friday, expanding the spread of Italian 10-year yields over Bunds to a new lifetime high.
With many trading centres in Asia on holiday on Monday, including India, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore, price actions may not necessarily be all that representative given thin volumes, analysts said.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and opposition leader Antonis Samaras agreed on a new coalition government to approve the bailout plan, which requires painful fiscal reform, before elections.
Papandreou and Samaras had been scrambling to reach a deal before finance ministers of euro countries meet in Brussels later on Monday, to show that Greece is serious about taking steps needed to stave off bankruptcy.
Political wrangling in Greece had sparked panic in global financial markets on fears that it would fail to save the country from defaulting and to stop the sovereign debt crisis from spreading to other countries in the euro zone.
While Greece has for now managed to stay on track to reduce its huge debt, market jitters remain over a lack of funding to beef up the bailout fund after the euro zone failed to get any concrete pledge for new money at a G-20 summit on Friday.
“We believe what will matter more for markets in the near term is the relatively disappointing outcome of the G-20 meeting, given the lack of progress on backstop facilities,” Barclays Capital analysts said in a report.
“Any further rise in Italian yields and spreads would make us very cautious about cross-market implications for risk assets,” they said.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his country would welcome quarterly monitoring by the International Monetary Fund of pension and labour market reforms and privatizations he had promised to implement.
Leaders of the world’s major economies deferred until next year any move to provide more crisis-fighting resources to the IMF.
Safety Bid Returns
The euro fell 0.4% to $1.3770 against the dollar, retreating from an earlier high of $1.3837, while the Australian dollar, which often is seen as a gauge for risk appetite given its close link to commodities, also eased 0.4%.
“For now, they’ve managed to stave off any panic, but it’s not looking positive for them,” said Grant Turley, strategist at ANZ in Sydney. “It feels like a low conviction, fatigued market at this point in time.”
A retreat in investor appetite for riskier assets helped safe-haven government bonds, with US Treasury futures down 1.5/32 at 130-06.5/32 from 130-08/32 late on Friday in New York. It was down to around 130 in early Asia on Monday.
Spot gold rose 0.7% to $1,766 an ounce on Monday, as uncertainties over the euro zone debt crisis renewed bids for safe-haven assets.
Data on Friday showed money managers, including hedge funds and other large speculators, raised their bullish bets in gold futures and options in the week to 1 November, a trend traders and analysts believe will remain intact.
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