Asian stocks off to weak start as caution prevails

A man is reflected in an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo February 9, 2018. — Reuters pic
A man is reflected in an electronic stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo February 9, 2018. — Reuters pic

TOKYO, March 15 — Asian stocks inched lower, tracking losses in US shares, after lacklustre retail sales stoked concern that consumer spending is cooling in the world’s largest economy. Treasury yields and the US dollar maintained losses.

Stocks were modestly weaker in Japan, Australia and South Korea, while Hong Kong futures also tipped equities to fall. The S&P 500 Index fell for a third day, with trading volume more than 10 per cent below the 30-day average, suggesting investors are shying away from big wagers.

Treasury yields dropped on bets the Federal Reserve won’t accelerate the pace of interest-rate hikes. The New Zealand dollar fell after growth data missed estimates.

Lacklustre retail sales provide the last major economic indicator prior to the Fed’s policy decision next week. While an increase in borrowing costs at the meeting is pretty much a done deal, it remains an open question as to whether US policy makers lift their expectations for the pace of future increases.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta cut its forecast for first-quarter growth, with its GDPNow model now projecting a 1.9 per cent expansion, down from 2.5 per cent before the retail data. It was 3.5 per cent at the start of the month.

The euro maintained declines after European Central Bank Mario Draghi’s comment that recent gains weren’t all warranted by economic fundamentals.

Elsewhere, oil inched higher. Opec raised its expectation for supply growth from the US and other producers for a fourth consecutive month, while US crude inventories rose more than anticipated last week.

Bitcoin dropped to its lowest level in over a month after Google said it will ban online advertisements promoting cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings.

Here are some of the key happenings this week

Japan industrial production is out tomorrow. Inflation data today is a focal point in the euro area. EU27 government officials discuss the European Union’s Brexit position.

And these are the main moves in markets — Stocks

The Topix index fell 0.2 per cent as of 9.09am in Tokyo. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 0.2 per cent. Futures on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 0.8 per cent. S&P 500 Index future contracts rose less than 0.2 per cent after the underlying benchmark declined 0.6 per cent. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was little changed.


The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index was little changed. The yen gained 0.2 per cent to 106.14 per US dollar. The New Zealand dollar lost 0.2 per cent to 73.18 US cents. The euro rose less than 0.1 per cent to US$1.2375. The pound was up less than 0.1 per cent to US$1.3970.


The yield on 10-year Treasuries held at 2.82 per cent after falling almost three basis points. Australia’s 10-year yield fell one basis point to 2.73 per cent.


West Texas Intermediate crude rose 0.2 per cent to US$61.10 (RM238.17) a barrel. Gold was little changed at US$1,325.33 an ounce. — Bloomberg

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