Stocks jump on US debt breakthrough

2011-08-01 07:52

Singapore - Stocks rose while gold and the yen dropped on Monday as investors cut safety trades after Washington reached a last-minute deal to escape default, though the top US credit rating could still be downgraded.

After a tense weekend in which rival plans to lift the US borrowing limit were shot down in Congress, US President Barack Obama said leaders from both parties reached a deal to cut the budget deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years, with additional savings of $1.4 trillion possible.

US S&P 500 stock futures bounced 1.5% in a relief rally, high-yielding currencies such as the Australian dollar and emerging Asian units strengthened, while US Treasuries - which have maintained their haven status despite being at the centre of the debt ceiling impasse - slid .

Investors were still on guard, though, since the plan, which will likely come to a vote in Congress on Monday, may not necessarily satisfy Standard & Poor's enough to keep the US triple-A debt rating.

"For the rally to be durable, markets will need more than this downpayment agreement," said Mohamed El-Erian, co-chief investment officer of Pimco in Newport Beach, California.

"They will look to a more coherent fiscal reform to emerge from the second step and, more generally, for additional measures to remove structural impediments to growth and jobs. Markets will also be asking whether this two-step agreement is sufficient to remove the threat of an S&P downgrade."

Relief over the US deal

Japan's Nikkei share average outperformed US stock futures, gaining 1.8%, as investors bought back technology-related shares and the weaker yen invited buyers to dive back into major exporters.

"Obama's remarks may be enough for the Nikkei to regain the last three days of losses, but today's gains will likely reflect temporary relief, not solid confidence that all the negative elements in the US economy have been priced in," said Tsuyoshi Kawata, a senior strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan was up 1.7% after falling for the past two sessions, with gains spread out fairly evenly among the sectors with the defensive utilities segment underperforming.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 1.5%, led by a 1.8% rise in HSBC after Europe's largest bank said it would sell nearly half of its underperforming US branch network.

The US dollar index , which measures its value against a basket of six other major currencies, was largely unchanged on the day.

The euro weighs heavily in the basket, and so the index reflects deep-seated fears about the fiscal unsustainability for both the United States and the eurozone.

"Avoiding default by the US government is of paramount importance, but investors also need to see a clear path toward deficit reduction that encourages confidence in the US dollar. This is essential if we are to maintain America's AAA rating and encourage long-term investment in the US," said US fund manager BlackRock, which oversees $3.6 trillion in assets, in a statement.

The dollar shot up against the yen, hitting ¥78.00 before easing back to ¥77.63, up 0.3% on the day . Traders in Asia had been keeping a close eye on the yen, since the dollar dropped below ¥77 to a four-month low of ¥76.70 on Friday, raising fears of yen-selling intervention by Japanese authorities.

Anxiety over eurozone

US Treasury debt futures fell in electronic trading. The 10-year Treasury futures were down 6/32 to 125 16/32, and in the cash market, the benchmark 10-year yield rose four basis points from late Friday in New York to 2.83%.

Oil futures also rose with risky assets. US crude futures for September were up $1.19 at $96.89 a barrel, while Brent crude gained $1.17 cents to $118.11.

Gold prices tumbled 0.9% to $1 611.89 an ounce, down from a record high of $1 632.30 reached on Friday.

Many investors believe the market focus will shift to the likelihood of a rating downgrade as well as to the structural debt problems afflicting the eurozone.

Throughout last week's increasingly intense showdown in Washington over the US debt ceiling, the spreads of Italian and Spanish bond yields over Germany have been widening sharply, signifying persistent unease that Greece's problem may spread to other European countries.

"Don't forget there's Europe in the background with problems in Italy and Spain," said Natalie Robertson, a commodities analyst at ANZ.

"There is still heightened risk aversion in the market and gold will probably be volatile in the next few days."