Asia stocks drift up but growth outlook cloudy

Asia stocks drift up but growth outlook cloudy

Hong Kong: Asian stocks inched higher on Monday, with investors taking profits on defensive plays and buying back other beaten down shares, though selling could resume shortly as the US and Chinese economies are slowing in tandem.

Financial bookmakers expected major European stock markets to open slightly lower, with slowing economic growth likely to cause profit expectations to come down.

The US labour market shrank in June for the first time this year, adding to fears of a sharp global slowdown in the second half, especially with Chinese manufacturing activity shifting down and property prices at risk of falling.

“Double-dip fears are the pervading influence on market psychology at present even as European sovereign concerns appear to be easing," said Mitul Kotecha, global head of foreign exchange strategy at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

Financial markets reflect a big decrease in risk taking as a result of perceptions of the global economy. World stocks have fallen 13.1% in the last two months, the Australian dollar slid 8.7% and emerging market bond yields have risen around 75 basis points over U.S. Treasuries.

This week the focus will be squarely on how central banks will address signs of a coming global slowdown, with the European Central Bank and the Bank of England both holding policy meetings and the Reserve Bank of Australia and Bank of Korea meeting as well.

Meanwhile investors are being bombarded by talk of a double dip recession. The number of news articles with the phrase “double dip" trebled in June, Factiva showed.

Japan’s Nikkei share average rose 0.7%, though remained within spitting distance of a seven-month low hit last Thursday.

After it fell 5.5% last week, some short-term indicators pointed to oversold conditions, but incoming economic reports could dictate where the market heads next.

“We’re seeing a bit of short-covering now that we’re past the jobs data, but the market is going to want to see a lot of the other indicators coming up this week, including those linked to consumer spending," said Nagayuki Yamagishi, a strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.1%, with gains in resources and technology shares mostly offset by declines in consumer staples, financials and telecom stocks.

In the last two months, telecom and utility stocks -- two sectors resilient to changes in business cycles -- have fared the best. Commodity-related shares and technology were the poorest performing.

Mainland Chinese stocks were Asia’s biggest decliners. The Shanghai composite was down 0.7%, bringing year-to-date losses to 27%.

China’s fourth-largest lender Bank of China saw its shares slip 0.9%, the biggest drag on the composite index, after the firm raised $8.8 billion in a rights issue over the weekend.

The company’s shares were down 1.8% in Hong Kong helping drive the Hang Seng index down 0.2%.

With the issue of Australia’s mining tax largely settled last week, it appeared some takeover deals were resurrected, showing the economic uncertainty was not stopping mergers and acquisition activity.

Australia’s Centennial Coal Co Ltd agreed to a $2 billion takeover offer from Thailand’s Banpu Public Co Ltd while Singapore’s Wilmar International Ltd struck a surprise deal to buy Australian conglomerate CSR Ltd’s sugar business for $1.47 billion.

U.S. markets will be closed for a public holiday, probably keeping trading volumes light for the rest of the global session.

In currency markets, the euro edged down 0.2% to $1.2533 after it gained last week with the help of the dollar’s losses in the wake of the June U.S. employment report.

Short-term investors cut their net long dollar positions by $2.7 billion to $9.5 billion in the week ended June 29, according to data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The decrease in long dollar positioning coincided with poor US housing data and slowing in factory activity.

US crude futures rose 0.7% to $72.66 a barrel after bargain hunters emerged with oil closer to $72.

Indeed, oil prices fell 8.3% last week compared with a 3.9% fall in world equity prices, so rebalancing of portfolios is inevitable.