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March 8, 2021
Business International

Asian stocks subdued, oil makes fresh low

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Image: Passersby are reflected on a screen displaying stock quotation, the stock market indices of various countries (bottom R) and exchange rates (top R) at a brokerage in Tokyo, Japan, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian share markets got off to a lackluster start on Monday following a dive on Wall Street, though losses were limited by a general lack of investor interest in a holiday-heavy week.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan  was flat, while Australia’s main index eased 0.2 percent.

Japan’s Nikkei slipped 0.9 percent.

The market took a hit late Friday after the Bank of Japan announced some changes to its massive stimulus program but stopped short of expanding the net amount of assets it buys, disappointing some who had hoped for a more aggressive move.

That in turn sent the yen broadly higher and caused some wild swings against the dollar. Early Monday, the dollar was down at 121.30 yen having briefly been as high as 123.58 on Friday.

The euro was little changed at $1.0863 , while the dollar was a whisker firmer against a basket of currencies  amid very light trade.

Wall Street also had a volatile end to the week with the expiration of stock and index options contracts generating heavy trading volume.

The Dow ended Friday down 2.1 percent, while the S&P 500  lost 1.78 percent and the Nasdaq  1.59 percent. For the week, the Dow fell 0.8 percent, the S&P 500 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq 0.2 percent.

The flight from stocks was a boon for safe-haven bonds. Longer-dated Treasuries have been particularly popular as investors wager the Federal Reserve is well ahead of the curve on inflation after last week’s rate hike.

The global background is also one of disinflation given the weakness in oil and other commodity prices and the mounting spare capacity in major exporters such as China.

Inflation expectations for five years ahead  have taken a marked turn lower this month, dropping to 2.11 percent from a high of 2.24 percent.

The resulting rally in longer-dated Treasuries has flattened the yield curve with the gap between two-year and 10-year paper shrinking to 123 basis points, the smallest since early February.

A flatter curve is bad news for bank profits since they essentially make money from borrowing short and lending long, and could be one reason U.S. bank stocks fell hard late last week. Financial stocks  were the worst-performing S&P sector on Friday.

There was no respite for oil prices as a glut of supply left both Brent and U.S. crude down around 35 percent for the year so far.

Brent  was quoted off 35 cents at $36.53 a barrel and touched a new seven-year low at $36.32. A break of $36.20 would take it to ground last trod in 2004. U.S. crude  lost 25 cents to $34.48 a barrel.

(Reporting by Wayne Cole)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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