Asian markets mixed, euro edges up on Italy report

(AFP pic) 

HONG KONG: Asian markets were mixed Wednesday but the euro staged a mild recovery on hopes Italy and the European Union can ease a row that has fuelled fears of another crisis in the eurozone.

While the China-US trade spate simmers, the source of angst among dealers has moved to Rome after the populist government passed a purse-busting budget last week that drew a rebuke from Brussels and warnings to abide by EU rules on public spending.

That prompted Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to threaten to seek damages for scaring off investors as the yield on government bonds surged, making it more expensive for Rome to borrow on international markets.

Traders were also spooked by comments from Claudio Borghi, the head of the lower house budget committee, that the euro was “not sufficient” to solve Italy’s money problems.

But the euro enjoyed a small rally Wednesday afternoon as Italian bonds edged back on reports in the country that Rome was willing to work on cutting some of its projected budget deficits.

However, Ray Attrill, head of foreign-exchange strategy at the National Australia Bank, said while “Italexit” concerns were overblown, he still thought there were possible problems for Rome.

“The more significant issue is the risk — albeit not immediate — of Italy being downgraded to ‘junk’ status by at least two of the major ratings agencies.

“(That) would have profound implications for the ability of investors with minimum credit rating restrictions — including global sovereign bond market index trackers — from holding Italian government debt,” he wrote.

And Justin Tyler, a director and portfolio manager at Daintree Capital, echoed the fears, warning of “political risks coming out of Italy”, adding, “You’re going to continue to see volatility in the euro.”

Rupiah, rupee struggle

Equity investors were also shifting warily, with Tokyo down 0.7% after hitting a new 27-year high.

Hong Kong eased 0.1% after plunging more than 2%, Sydney put on 0.3% and Singapore gained 0.7%, while Manila and Bangkok rose. Jakarta shed 0.3% and there were also losses in Wellington, Taipei and Mumbai.

Shanghai and Seoul were closed for public holidays.

On currency markets the dollar held above 15,000 Indonesian rupiah after breaking the mark Tuesday for the first time since 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.

The rupiah has suffered, along with many other emerging market units, as rising US interest rates lead investors to withdraw in search of better returns, while a jump in oil prices has hit Indonesia’s current account — leading to concerns about its finances.

In a bid to support the local currency the government is considering measures to attract investment and help exporters.

And India’s rupee is sitting near record lows at 73 to the dollar as soaring oil prices put a strain on the country’s current account, leading to vast outflows of cash.

Oil is holding at four-year highs but is taking a breather after recent gains, with dealers eyeing a slight increase in US stockpiles.

However, with Iranian supplies due to be taken out of the market, the dollar rising and Venezuela continuing to struggle observers are still predicting $100 a barrel is on the horizon.

In early trade London rose 0.3% and Paris added 0.4%.

Key figures around 0720 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.7% at 24,110.96 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.1% at 27,113.85

Shanghai – Composite: Closed for public holiday

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3% at 7,497.25

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1590 from $1.1548 at 2050 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3009 from $1.2979

Dollar/yen: UP at 113.80 from 113.68 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP seven cents at US$75.30 per barrel

Oil – Brent Crude: UP seven cents at US$84.87 per barrel

New York – Dow Jones: UP 0.5% at 26,773.94 (close)