Sydney: Asian stocks fell on Friday to round off a week of losses as persistent worries over whether the US economy may suffer another recession kept investors dour.
Shaken by the recent run of poor US economic data, investors chose to play it safe and wait for a speech later by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on how the world’s biggest economy may fare in coming months.
Few expect Bernanke to suggest further monetary policy easing is on the cards to boost growth, even though some wish he would.
“What Bernanke says or doesn’t say will determine our fate next week,” said Don Williams, chief investment officer at Platypus Asset Management in Australia.
“Because of the sour state of the US economy, some are hopeful that there will be something on quantitative easing to support a recovery.”
Investors were also bracing for a second estimate of how the US economy performed last quarter. The market would no doubt be disappointed if growth is less than the forecast 1.4%.
The uneasy mood pressured oil prices and the dollar, which fell towards a 15-year low on the yen.
Stocks struggled too. The MSCI Asia stock index outside Japan fell 0.3%, and Japan’s Nikkei slipped towards 16-month lows as exporters and technology firms led losses.
With investors vexing over growth, shares in natural resources firms fared the worse. The MSCI Asia ex-Japan materials sub-index shed 0.5%.
Even global miner BHP Billiton lost 1.1% despite reporting this week its best half-year profit in two years, suggesting investors were of two minds about BHP’s head-turning $39 billion bid for Potash Corp.
But gold’s safe-haven allure kept it near a two-month high.
Investors’ preference for safety is apparent in gold’s rally this month. Gold prices have so far risen 5.4% in contrast to a 2.4% drop in the MSCI Asia ex-Japan stock index.