Shares, euro fall as ECB delays action

2012-08-03 08:12

Tokyo - Asian shares and the euro fell on Friday as investors shunned risk after the European Central Bank took no immediate action and only hinted at future steps to tackle the eurozone's fiscal woes, following similar inaction from the US Federal Reserve.

European stocks were likely to consolidate, and US stock futures signalled a flat Wall Street start. Financial spreadbetters called the main indexes in London, Paris and Frankfurt to open between a 0.1% rise and a 0.1% drop.

Key US non-farm payrolls data for July is due at 12:30 GMT, with job creation below the 100 000 forecast likely to boost hopes the Fed, which on Wednesday stood pat with its current monetary policy, would embark on further easing as early as next month.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 1.1% after global stocks tumbled on Thursday, but was set for a weekly gain of about 0.9%.

The index's materials sector slumped nearly 2% as miners dragged Australian shares lower to rank among the worst performers in Asia with a 1% drop.

"One would expect the risk-off adjustment would likely be involved in the selling of stocks such as miners, whose revenue strengths are more vulnerable to on-going problems in Europe, and the retrenchment of world confidence and so forth," said Ric Spooner, market strategist at CMC Markets, of Australian stocks.

Japan's Nikkei stock average slid 1.2%, hit by heavy quarterly losses and cuts to the full-year earnings outlook from Sharp and Sony.

Expectations for bold action had run high since ECB President Mario Draghi vowed on Thursday last week to do whatever it took to preserve the euro.

The ECB, after keeping interest rates steady, indicated it may resume buying government bonds to drive down surging Spanish and Italian borrowing costs, but passed the baton back to eurozone governments by saying they must act first.

But Draghi said the ECB would consider other "non-standard" measures, hinting at quantitative easing, and left the door open for future rate cuts by noting signs of spreading economic weakness.

"It was obviously disappointing not to get outright buying of bonds by the Fed and ECB, but it seems they will come and in the case of the ECB, could be unlimited," said Chris Weston, a dealer at IG Markets in Melbourne.

Central banks not almighty

The euro hit all-time lows against the Australian and New Zealand dollars on Friday around A$1.1600 and around NZ$1.4950 respectively.

The single currency fell 0.1% against the US dollar to $1.2170, not far from a one-week low of $1.21335 touched after investors digested the ECB's news on Thursday.

"Draghi kept hopes that the ECB will do what it can within the framework of a central bank and that is positive," said Kazuto Uchida, an executive officer and general manager of the global markets division at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

"But concurrently, markets were reminded of the limit to what the central bank can do for Europe's fiscal crisis. There is now risk of repercussions to having an excessive belief that monetary policy or central banks are 'almighty'."

Uchida said that the Fed, in contrast, has managed market expectations better to maintain relative stability by pricing in further easing stimulus.

The Fed said at this week's meeting that it was prepared to act if the economy deteriorated further, and economists say the US central bank is buying time to lay the groundwork for further monetary easing, possibly at its September 12-13 meeting.

US 10-year Treasuries in Asia clung to gains made the previous day while Japanese government bonds rallied, pushing the two-year yield down to its lowest since July 2005 at 0.085%.

The lack of policy moves from the ECB and the Fed reduced pressure on the Bank of Japan, which meets next week.

"There is no reason for a country where economic assessment has not changed, to take action," said Mari Iwashita, bond strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

Brent crude added 0.4% to $106.33 a barrel, while US crude futures rose 0.5% to $87.57.

China's services industry slowed in July from June, but still fared far better than the factory sector, with the official purchasing managers' index falling to 55.6 from 56.7 and staying above a 50 reading that signals expansion.

Market jitters unsettled Asian credit markets, sending the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index wider by 4 basis points.