Asian markets fall tracking US jitters

Asian markets fall tracking US jitters

Singapore: Asian shares fell on Wednesday as surprise declines in US consumer confidence and German business sentiment fuelled fears about the strength of the global economic recovery and boosted the safe-haven yen.

Traders were also eagerly awaiting testimony by US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke later on Wednesday for fresh policy signals, following a surprise rise in its discount rate last week that spooked investors.

Stock markets have been volatile so far in 2010, with Asia retreating more than 5%, amid worries that the global economic recovery is not strong enough yet for central banks to start withdrawing emergency stimulus measures put in place during the financial crisis.

US stocks suffered their biggest one-day drop in nearly three weeks after data showed US consumer confidence in February slumped to a 10-month low, while German business confidence dropped for the first time in almost a year.

Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 1.5%, with exporters hit by the stronger yen and after the sharp drop in US consumer sentiment dented investor confidence in the global economy. Australian stocks also fell 1.5%, the steepest fall in more than two weeks. South Korean stocks lost 1% and Hong Kong shares fell about 0.8%.

Shanghai stocks recouped losses from early trade to close up 1.3% at a one-month high as traders looked for bargains among beaten-down small cap stocks.

Shares in Singapore lost more than 0.5%, while Indian stocks fell marginally.

Higher-yielding currencies, including the Australian dollar, slipped and the dollar held broad gains after the weak US consumer confidence data stung risk appetite. Gold fell more than 1%.

Aiko Hayashi in Tokyo contributed to this story.