Tokyo: Asian shares and the euro edged up from lows on Monday, as opinion polls showing a lead for Greece’s pro-bailout camp helped calm fears of a disorderly exit by Athens from the single currency that had driven a flight from riskier assets last week.
The recovery looked vulnerable, however, as MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6%, still not far from its lowest level since late December touched on Friday.
The pan-Asia stock index posted a third consecutive week of losses last week for its longest losing streak in six months. It has now wiped out all its gains for the year, having been up some 15% from end-2011 levels in late February.
Japan’s Nikkei average edged up 0.2%, after posting its longest weekly losing run in 20 years last week.
European shares looked set to track their Asian peers higher, with spreadbetters predicting major European markets would open up as much as 0.5%. US stock futures were up 0.8%.
“Today it really comes down to what is going on in Greece, the idea that Greece will stay within the euro zone calms the market,” said Ben Taylor, a trader at CMC markets.
Investors fled to the safety of the US dollar last week on mounting concerns about Greece and instability in the Spanish banking sector, amid a lack of immediate policy responses from European leaders.
Copper gained 1% to $7,717 a tonne while US crude rose 0.8% to $91.62 a barrel and Brent added 0.6% to $107.42. A firmer euro helped lift spot gold up 0.2% at $1,576.69 an ounce.
“The rise today is mostly due to short-covering,” said a Shanghai-based copper trader with an international firm.
While hopes remain that a compromise can be found that will keep Greece in the euro zone, talk of contingency plans have emerged for the possibility that Athens leaves the euro, posing severe contagion risks to the whole European currency bloc.
“Markets are highly conscious of the tail risk and talks of drawing up contingency plans in case of a crisis are done openly, suggesting a strengthening shift away from emerging countries or risk assets into the dollar,” said Takao Hattori, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo.
“Having hit key lows for now, markets may see some respite from one-way selling, but sentiment remains highly vulnerable until the fate of Greece is clarified,” he said.
Surveys published on Saturday showed Greece’s conservatives have regained an opinion poll lead that would allow the formation of a government committed to keeping the country in the euro zone.
Uncertainty, however, will persist until Greece holds the crucial election on 17 June, keeping markets guarded. Several meetings of European leaders are also scheduled late in June.
Switzerland is drawing up plans for emergency measures including capital controls in case the euro collapses, although it does not expect to need them and will continue to defend a cap on the franc in the meantime, the head of the central bank said.
Funds Target Dollar
Currency speculators raised long dollar positions - bets the currency will strengthen - to the highest level since at least mid-2008, while euro short positions rose to the highest on record, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed on Friday.
Speculators also were net short on the Australian dollar, having cut their net long positions all month.
The dollar index measured against key currencies rose to a 20-month high of 82.461 on Friday, and was off around 0.5% at 81.998 on Monday.
Trading is expected to be subdued on Monday amid a lack of key economic data and a US market holiday for Memorial Day.
The euro rose 0.6% to $1.2588 on Monday, while the Australian dollar gained 1% to reach a one-week high of $0.9863, well above a six-month low of $0.9690 hit last week.
The euro hit $1.2495 on Friday, its lowest since July 2010, after the president of Catalonia, Spain’s wealthiest autonomous region, said it had few options to refinance over €13 billion ($16.27 billion) in debt due this year.
Sentiment has been weakening on fears that rising bank rescue costs could force the euro zone’s fourth largest economy to seek an international bailout.
A government source said on Sunday that Spain may recapitalise its fourth-largest bank, Bankia, which last week asked for €19 billion in funding ($24 billion), with government bonds in return for shares.
Investors cut their risk exposure across assets in the week ending 23 May, data from EPFR Global showed. Emerging markets equity, commodities and energy sector funds and Europe equity funds all saw redemptions in excess of $1 billion, while high yield bond funds had their biggest outflows in over nine months.