Asian stocks down as European debt fears rise

Asian stocks down as European debt fears rise

Hong Kong: Asian stock markets mostly fell on Monday as dealers worried that Greece’s debt problems were going to infect other parts of Europe.

Markets dropped after a warning at the back end of last week from Moody’s over Italian banks’ creditworthiness, with the ratings agency saying it was mulling downgrades across the sector.

The renewed fears sent the European common currency down, which had knock-on effects in Tokyo, where companies with heavy exposure to the euro helped pull the market 0.86% lower by the break.

Sydney was 1.01% down, Seoul was 1.17% off and Hong Kong dropped 0.73%.

Shanghai proved the regional exception, adding 0.22% as dealers looked to domestic news, focusing on positive comments from Premier Wen Jiabao, who said inflation looked tameable this year.

His comments were interpreted as meaning that Beijing may take its foot off the monetary tightening brake.

Investors in much of Asia were spooked by the pessimism in Europe where Moody’s said it had put the ratings of 16 Italian banks on review for possible downgrade and had changed the outlook to negative from stable for a further 13 banks.

Moody’s, which put Italy’s sovereign credit rating on review earlier this month, said the 16 banks were “sensitive to even a moderate change in the government’s credit standing and its ability to support the country’s banks."

The agency has raised doubts about the government’s ability to reduce Italy’s public deficit and warned of risks to growth.

The new warning sent the spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds to 212 basis points -- the highest since the creation of the euro.

“We have seen this pattern before of Greece’s debt problems spilling over into neighboring countries such as Spain and Italy so we still need to be cautious about Europe’s sovereign debt risk," said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

News from Europe buffeted the US on Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling 115.42 points (0.96%) to close at 11,934.58.

The euro fell against the dollar and yen in Asia on Monday as traders moved out of the single currency in response to the fears over possible contagion.

The euro bought $1.4118 in Tokyo morning trade, down from $1.4195 in New York late Friday. It also slipped to ¥114.01 from ¥114.10.

The dollar firmed to ¥80.77 from ¥80.34.

“As has been so often the case recently, eurozone sovereign debt problems knocked investor risk-appetite lower," said John Kyriakopoulos, currency strategist at National Australia Bank.

Oil was lower. New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in August, eased 69 cents to $90.47 and Brent North Sea crude, also for August, dropped 66 cents to 104.46.

Gold opened at $1,500.00-$1,501.00 an ounce in Hong Kong, down from its Friday close of $1,518.50-$1,519.50.